January 22, 2019
Danforth Art Intends to Merge with Framingham State

September 7, 2017 — Danforth Art Museum\School, a Framingham nonprofit that has experienced rising operating costs and "significant" revenue declines, earlier this week announced its intent to merge with Framingham State University, a move aimed at providing long-term financial stability.

The planned merger, which follows negotiation extending over much of the last year, is contingent on the purchase of the Jonathan Maynard Building from Danforth Art by the Massachusetts State College Building Authority on behalf of Framingham State University.

Danforth Art purchased the building from the Town of Framingham in 2013. Under the terms of the original mortgage, the town has the right of first refusal for its sale and has 120 days to purchase the building for two-thirds the cost of any viable offer.

Should Framingham vote, at Town Meeting on Oct. 17, to purchase the building rather than allow its sale, the merger contract would be voided and, the museum said, Danforth Art would be forced to dissolve.

"For Danforth Art Museum\School, which has faced a near-crippling spike of more than half a million dollars in critical operating costs, and significant losses due to lengthy, but unavoidable, business interruptions this year, this merger provides long-term financial stability and organizational viability through university infrastructure support and economies of scale," noted Executive Director Debra Petke.

She added that the merger also would create potential new sources of revenue and donations, and opportunities for" programmatic growth."

Framingham State University reportedly has made an initial commitment of $4.5 million toward the integration.

For Framingham State University, the merger provides ample opportunities for new educational resources as its faculty, in the art department and other disciplines and would integrate original works of art into its current curricula and future course offerings, Danforth Art said.

The proposed merger is reminiscent of a similar move two years when the Museum of Fine Arts Boston agreed to merge its financially struggling School of the Museum of Fine Arts with Tufts University.

Since becoming executive director of Danforth Art in 2015, Petke and Framingham State University President F. Javier Cevallos discussed ways to enhance and expand the program and services of both organizations.

Danforth Art last year was forced to move on short notice from the Danforth Building at 123 Union Ave. to its current location at 14 Vernon St. after the boiler broke with no plans to repair it. That forced the museum to shut its exhibit space for about a year and place its collection in storage although it kept its art school running. Staff level was cut from 13 to its current five full-time equivalent employees.

To fund the move and needed renovations, Danforth Art undertook a capital campaign to raise $500,000, although Petke noted, "We lost all our earned income for several months, which made donors uneasy. Fundraising became difficult."

Ultimately, the campaign succeeded, the art collection was restored to the new Vernon Street side, and art classes, which draw about 1,000 students each year, resumed their full pace.

"Together as one, the combined assets of both organizations are given new footing, new potential, and new creative energy," according to Petke.

For the year ending June 30, 2016, Danforth Art reported $1.14 million in revenue, of which $665,000 came from contributions and grants, and $1.31 million in expenses, according to its most recently available federal tax filing. It also reported assets of $1 million.

Danforth Art was established in 1975, offering beginning and advanced courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, and related disciplines. Today, the museum's collection spans more than 3,000 works of art and artist ephemera.

If the museum closes, Petke said efforts would be taken to ensure that the permanent collection "is sufficiently protected in the public trust and in perpetuity."

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