Opining on Fisk

October 4, 2007

I’m in today’s Tennessean with an op-ed piece on Fisk University and its sad efforts to sell the Steiglitz Collection of art to an opportunistic Wal-Mart heiress. The piece makes the point, expressed here earlier, that Fisk should get out of the business of being a college, sell the art for $100 million or so, and use the proceeds to support the work of up and coming African-Americans in a wide variety of fields.

When I began teaching at Harvard in 1979, female students were still admitted in name only to Radcliffe, although none of the ones in my classes in any way thought of themselves as “Cliffies.” During the time I was there, Radcliffe grew into the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and, last year, its president  became the first female president of Harvard.


Fisk to be fleeced by Wal-Mart heiress?

August 30, 2007

As blogged here earlier, Nashville’s Fisk University is in such bad financial shape that it is trying to sell off portions of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the greatest art collection in the state.

Now comes news that Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton wants to buy a half interest in the Stieglitz Collection for a mere $30 million. The estimated value of one painting alone–the Radiator Building shown below–is $20 million.


If this dirty deal goes down, the Collection would spend half the time at the new Chrystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The irony of this offer is unreal: the ill-gotten gains from Wal-Mart, a company whose predatory business practices have led to the extinction of hundreds of family-owned hardware stores, drug stores, and other small town establishments is now being used to take advantage of Fisk when the university is on its financial knees.

According to the offer put forth by Chrystal Bridge–the name sounds like a resident of some Arkansas trailer park–the Stieglitz Collection would spend half of the year in Bentonville, a hick town mostly visited by manufacturing representatives who come to the Wal-Mart Death Star in hopes of selling more cheap, Chinese-made goods to the company.

The best story I have seen on this sad situation is in Christine Kreyling’s article in the Nashville Scene.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Fisk vs O’Keeffe Museum: another option

August 7, 2007

As reported in the Nashville Tennessean, Fisk University and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum have settled a lawsuit brought by the Museum that sought to prevent Fisk from selling a Georgia O’Keeffe painting now owned by the University. Radiator Building–Night, New York (shown below) is part of the 101-painting Alfred Stieglitz Collection of modern art given to Fisk by the artist in 1949. If the agreement is approved by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, Fisk will sell the Radiator painting to the Museum for $7.5 million, and will gain permission to sell Marsden Hartley’s Painting No. 3.



According to David West, the spokesman for Fisk, “the scope of our financial challenges requires a large infusion of cash to provide a lasting fix for our circumstances.” The key word here is “lasting.” Fisk has an increasingly difficult time raising money and fulfilling its mission. The University should reassess what it can do and should do. My recommendation? Sell the entire collection, and use that money to transform Fisk into an institute that will better fit the 21st Century.

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Leipers Fork: The Tennessee Martha’s Vineyard?

December 8, 2006

This week’s Nashville Scene contains a gushing piece on Gary Fisketjon, who at one time occupied the enviable position of publishing’s ediutorial enfant terrible. It was he who unleashed Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City on the American public as a Vintage Contemporaries paperback. He later worked at Knopf with the following writers: Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Patricia Highsmith, Brett Easton Ellis, Haruki Murakami, Kent Haruf, Michel Houellebecq, Donna Tartt, Tobias Wolff.

Fisketjon is the latest celebrity to take up life in Leipers Fork, there to join other luminaries, most of them from the music world. The common Leiper Forkians take pride in the celebrities among them, just like their counterparts on Martha’s Vineyard, and make a point of not gushing when some famous soul comes to the grocery store or ambles down the street.

This article makes it sound like that Fisketjon is not just one of the summer people, but here to stay, conluding with the following:

“It is here, then, that Fisketjon comes to do the work that made him successful and that continues to drive the success of his stable of writers. He comes to sit at his kitchen table with its worm-worn wood, or at his window looking out on the Williamson County hills, because it is only here that he finds room and time for his craft. The next great American novel may be written in New York City, or California, or Washington state. But chances are it will be edited in Tennessee.”