Faina Gurevich’s “Reconstruction of the Denver Art Museum” was recently named the best outdoor photo in a photo competition. It shows reflections on the outside of the museum’s 50,000-square-meter new visitor center, which is slated to open in autumn 2021. (Provided by the Denver Architecture Foundation)

Who Owns the Denver Art Museum Artwork? A recent audit conducted by the City and County of Denver raised questions about ownership of certain works, although city and museum officials deny the need to act on the conclusions of the audit.

The audit, published Jan. 21, recommended half a dozen behind-the-scenes changes to the Institute’s operations, including concerns about board diversity. But it also highlighted a rare conflict between auditor Timothy O’Brien and the museum over access and ownership.

The museum received more than $ 20 million in annual funding from the city in 2018 and 2019, including loans for the ongoing renovation and construction project of the north building. However, the formalized relationship with Denver that began in 1932 is jeopardized unless clarified whether multiple plants will be shared with the city, O’Brien concluded after his ten-month audit.

“The Denver Art Museum’s agreement with the city is unclear and there is a lack of documentation about which company owns what and what responsibilities each company has,” wrote O’Brien. “The museum also needs to strengthen its management of inventory planning, and its board of directors could better represent the diversity of the communities it serves.”

The museum directors and Denver Mayor’s Office Michael Hancock disagreed with O’Brien about the need to update their formal partnership. They cited a smooth relationship and planned future action that will eventually follow O’Brien’s instructions.

“The Mayor’s Office approved six of the report’s seven recommendations, which will go a long way in resolving the concerns raised by the audit,” wrote Hancock spokesman Mike Strott, referring to O’Brien’s recommendations for improving the 35 members Inner workings, attitude and statutes of the board of directors.

“However,” he continued, “we felt it was premature to jump straight to the creation of a completely new company agreement before we have implemented these six recommendations and before we have had the opportunity to examine whether a new company agreement really is that. ” required.”

Denver Art Museum officials declined to find out which works of art were in a potential ownership dispute because there weren’t any.

Duncan Hall in the newly renovated Martin building of the Denver Art Museum in late 2019. Officials hope to be open to the public again by fall this year and to showcase new renovation and construction projects. (Photo by Jeff Wells, courtesy of the Denver Art Museum)

“We don’t really feel like there is a lack of clarity,” said Andrea Fulton, associate director and chief marketing officer of the Denver Art Museum. “It’s about procedural documentation. We agree, of course, and are happy to work with the city to bring all of these assets into line. But there isn’t really a lack of understanding between us. “

O’Brien’s biggest frustration – and one that recalls his controversial audit at the Denver Zoo in 2017, in which zoo officials resisted O’Brien’s office for months before surrendering – is that the museum directors gave him full access to their ARGUS -Data Denied The museum’s collections management system, which catalogs in detail the non-profit organization’s 70,000+ paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

O’Brien said museum staff told him that an intern once attempted to copy the tightly kept database, which museum officials consider a valuable addition to their collected works. As a result, museum officials flatly refused to allow him to make a digital copy of the archive for off-site analysis. O’Brien staff were closely monitored at times while they were collecting data from the on-site archive, he said.

“I don’t like being equated with an intern, and I think I have the law on my side. The law is a higher calling than a museum policy, ”said O’Brien. “This is one reason why the audit took so long.”

Jeff Keene, Exhibition Production Manager (left), and Kevin Hester, Exhibition Installation Manager, are installing “Villas at Bordighera,” part of “Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature,” in the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building in October. 8, 2019. (Joe Amon, Denver Post File)

Assistant Museum Director Fulton disagreed, saying O’Brien’s team had full access and training on how to use the database. She said it was never acceptable to remove a museum or artifact from the building and that its archives would be treated the same “from a safety and integrity perspective”.

“The museum is unaware of improper copying of data by an intern,” Fulton wrote in a follow-up email. “The bottom line is that the team on site had unfiltered access to the data.”

O’Brien’s recommendations are advisory and not legally binding, but are approved by the Denver County Charter. O’Brien has made its way through the city’s top cultural nonprofits in recent years, including the aforementioned Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens. In his 2018 report on the latter, he urged the gardens, among other things, to improve safety practices.

According to Fulton, museum directors valued the outside perspective of their work. They were already planning to update many of their practices when they moved in this year after extensive renovations and construction in and around 100 W. 14th Ave. moved to their expanded campus, Fulton said.

“These are windows into different areas of work, and the activities of an art museum are big and wide and extensive,” she said. “And that’s exactly how we digested this audit. These are really targeted, specific areas of potential improvement that we’d like to explore. “

Museum directors were hoping to unveil their $ 150 million rerun of the Geo Ponti-designed North Building (reintroduced as the Martin Building) and a 50,000-square-foot new visitor center in June 2020, but pushed to do so in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic back . Your new target date is autumn 2021.

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