By Jillian Poland
The University will soon purchase Danforth Art, a local museum and studio art school, to create The Danforth Art Center at Framingham State University, said Dale Hamel, executive vice president.
On Oct. 17, Framingham Town Meeting members passed two articles to allow the University to buy the Jonathan Maynard building from the town.
The sale of the Jonathan Maynard building was essential to the merger, as the University plans to renovate the space to hold both the museum and new art studios, said Hamel.
At the Framingham Town Meeting, President F. Javier Cevallos promised to have the art center up and running by January 2019.
Danforth Art was founded in 1975 by members of the Framingham community. It has had close ties to the University since it opened. Hamel said a number of people affiliated with the University, including himself, have sat on the museum board or been involved in other aspects.
The museum has a collection of 3,000 artworks created in New England, including the largest collection of work by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, a prominent female African-American sculptor who lived in Framingham, said Debra Petke, executive director of Danforth Art.
The town sold the Maynard building, an historic site overlooking the Framingham Centre Common, to Danforth Art for $1.5 million in 2014. The town still owns the mortgage on the property.
Danforth Art was expected to raise funds to renovate the building and move into the facility over the course of a few years, according to The MetroWest Daily News.
However, last year, Danforth Art was forced to leave its facility in downtown Framingham because of a faulty boiler, said Petke. Danforth Art had to shut down the museum and all classes for five months.
As a result, it lost all its earned income from museum admissions, memberships and class tuitions.
Additionally, operating costs increased because the museum collection needed to be stored off-site and the Maynard building needed to be renovated before art classes could resume, said Petke.
“If the sale of the building was not approved by the town, Danforth Art would have had to close and the art collection would have been given to other art museums, possibly outside of Massachusetts. ... Because of this merger, the museum and art school will not only survive, but will thrive as part of the University,” said Petke.
Hamel said, “We were in this situation where we had this conversation going on with the Danforth – specifically, about the Maynard building – and the need to address the art studios, for which we had $2.5 million set aside. At that point, it was decided to combine the two approaches and find a solution that could do a couple different things.”
When Danforth Art bought the Maynard building, the deal stipulated if Danforth Art chose to sell it, the town had the right to buy the property back for two thirds of the sale offer.
Hamel said, “So, the town has before them the option to either pay out $1.47 million dollars to buy the building, or to receive $1 million and let us buy the building.”
Nine town meeting members voted to exercise town’s right to buy the building; 125 members voted against doing so.
After voting against buying the building for the town, town meeting members voted on a second article to release Danforth Art from the reverter clause.
Danforth Art paid for $1 million of the Maynard building in cash and mortgages. Five-hundred thousand dollars of the full $1.5 million cost was to be paid with in-kind services to the town. It was determined that the full amount of in-kind services has not yet been met, said Hamel.
Without that amount paid, the town would have the right to reclaim the property. By passing the second article, town meeting members allowed the University to pay the remainder of in-kind services owed and relinquished the right to reclaim the property.
All the town meeting committees that presented at the meeting supported the sale. While there were concerns about giving up control of an historic building, the town manager concluded the building did not Wt in with plans to expand any academic or administrative spaces for town use, said Elizabeth Funk, chair of the Finance Committee.
Town meeting members were worried buying the Maynard building would leave the town with yet another “white elephant” property that would sit unused and fall into disrepair. Speakers also cited Danforth Art’s importance to the community, particularly for Framingham Public School students.
Cheryl Tully Stoll, chairwoman of the Framingham Board of Selectman, said, “Here we are at one of Framingham’s last town meetings ever being given the opportunity to positively impact the future of this city. This is an opportunity for all of us – the last Board of Selectmen and the last body of town meeting members – to put an indelible stamp on the future.”
She added, “Tonight’s timing couldn’t be better for legacy purposes.”
Danforth Art employees hugged and celebrated when the votes were tallied. “The future looks bright,” said Kristin Wilson, collections manager for Danforth Art.
By merging with Danforth Art, the University will acquire both the space to create new art labs and a large museum collection. It will make FSU the only state college in Massachusetts with a museum collection, said Petke.
Hamel said it will cost approximately $4.5 million to buy and renovate the Maynard building.
To fund the purchase, the University will use the $2.5 million already allocated for new art studios. The University also agreed to sell a property on Mayhew St. for $1 million, since the property will no longer be needed after the acquisition of the Maynard building. The rest of the money was gathered from remnant funds of other projects, said Hamel.
While the town meeting vote paved the way for the University to buy the property, the sale has not officially gone through yet.
Due to a stipulation in the original sale of the building to Danforth Art, the town has 120 days to exercise their right to buy the building.
Hamel said, “In theory, town meeting could be recalled and a new vote taken up, but obviously, that’s not what anybody is expecting. But to be prudent, we have to determine ... whether we can proceed now or wait until, essentially, Dec. 29th.”
Both parties have signed a purchase and sale agreement. Hamel said they are simply waiting for a closing date, which could come as quickly as a week or could be held off until late December.
The Danforth Art Center at Framingham State will continue to offer many of the same programs to the community as Danforth Art. Danforth Art programs include classes open to the public, museum tours and exhibitions.
Following the vote, Cevallos and other FSU administrators, along with Danforth Art employees, celebrated outside the meeting room by hugging and congratulating one another.
Cevallos said, “I think that this is going to be a wonderful asset for the community. It’s going to be a great facility for the arts and it will allow the museum to survive and to thrive.
“It’s a win-win!”