Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm not very sure about the rules of this, but consider it a promotion for the online edition of the GF Tribune.

My interpretation of what has happened is that the on-going war between the national interests and the local interests has finally ended. National won. There will be consequences.

Prairie Mary

August 21, 2009

Russell Museum, Ad Club part ways

Tribune Staff Writer

Two longtime pals on the Great Falls Western Art scene are going their separate ways this week.

C.M. Russell Auction officials Thursday announced it was severing ties to the popular annual C.M. Russell Auction of Original Western Art held in March.

The auction was launched in 1969 and continues to be run by the Great Falls Advertising Federation, also known as the Ad Club. For 41 years, the Ad Club annually donated a slice of the auction's proceeds to support the C.M. Russell Museum.

At the peak, the Ad Club donated $421,280 to the museum in 2006.

However, the donation dropped sharply this year with a decrease in art sales. The donation amounted to $120,829, the smallest amount since 1970. The 2008 donation to the museum was $400,240.

The reason for this year's figure was rooted in the flagging national economy, according to Sara Becker, executive director of the Ad Club.

"We sold half as much art as we did last year," said Becker, a former marketing and publications coordinator at the Russell Museum.

Museum officials said the museum will create an independent and exclusive additional event that will feature sales of Russell works and other western art.

No date or location for that sale or auction has been chosen by the museum's board of directors, said new Executive Director Darrell Beauchamp.

"Most likely it will be held in 2010," Beauchamp said, as opposed to later this year. Beauchamp said details remain to be determined by the museum's governing board.

Ad Club officials said the much ballyhooed Russell Auction will go on as scheduled, albeit without the museum's formal participation.

Beauchamp said in a news release that it was important for the museum to directly manage any event using the museum's name and brand.

"It is not just the new guy deciding to do this," Beauchamp added. He said museum staff and board members had been discussing the issue for some time, especially in recent weeks. He said the timing appeared appropriate with a new director on board.

"It didn't have anything to do with the money," Beauchamp said. "We didn't base the decision on the low auction results from 2009." He said the museum was "very appreciative" of the Ad Club's donations of $5.7 million over 41 years.

Both sides officially wished each other well Thursday, but not all of the comments were sunny ones.

"We're still perplexed by this whole deal," said Jack May, Ad Club president. "It was very shocking. We've lost a lot of sleep over this."

An Ad Club official said the group will try to figure out other organizations to which it will donate auction proceeds.

"We will examine benefitting other worthwhile organizations in the area for the future," May said in a news release.

May also expressed surprise at Beauchamp's comment that the decision was not based on money.

"It has everything to do with money, and they've expressed that," May said.

The club released a letter from David Solberg, museum board chairman, which said the club's 2009 donation to the museum "was insufficient to cover our costs in money, facilities and staff time."

Beauchamp said the museum considered such letters private and maintained it was quoted out of context.

"It's unfortunate that he feels that way," Becker replied. She said the club was trying to explain to the public what was happening.

May said museum officials were "making it pretty plain that they think they can do it better."

Becker said the Ad Club is not planning a name change for its Russell Auction, adding the club registered the name with the state. Beauchamp said museum officials have not decided if they would have any heartburn over the club's continued use of the auction name.

A museum news release said the Russell Museum had spent "forty-one years of assisting" the Ad Club with the auction.

"There are some small, really minimal things that they have done," May replied. He said the club should have no trouble finding another location for an auction reception, for example, or another location where potential auction art would be judged.

Beauchamp said museum staff and officials spend "thousands of hours" on the auction.

May said the auction was begun as a fundraising event for Ad Club, and the museum was a secondary beneficiary.

May said he believes Ad Club's large group of volunteers worked very hard at the 2009 auction but was hurt by national financial concerns.

He said a popular art auction in Reno, Nev., the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, three weeks ago saw those effects.

"A year ago they did $39 million (in sales)," May said. "This year they did $10 (million)." Actually, the Reno auction reported grossing $11.665 million, still far less than the $39 million figure.

Beauchamp said the Russell Museum is financially sound but would like to be able to increase revenues.

"We're wishing the Ad Club nothing but the best," he said. Beauchamp said the museum's new event should take place "as early as spring of 2010."

Becker and May said they are not expecting the museum's decision to hurt the annual Russell Auction.

"I don't think we're going to see significant damage," Becker said. She and May said the Ad Club would have some concern if the museum event were held at exactly the same time as the Russell Auction, set to be held March 17-20, 2010.

Becker said it would be better for people to be able to attend both events, if they are held during Western Art Week in March. Beauchamp said it's possible the museum event will be held then.

May said a number of events have popped up during Western Art Week in Great Falls, which he said gives the area economy a big boost.

"We'll keep doing what we do," May said.

Beauchamp said the museum simply would like to "do a better job of controlling our destiny." As for Ad Club, he said "it's very clear to us now that their number one priority is to support the Ad Club."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Thanks for posting it. I suspect the museum board members are unhappy that the Russell Museum is the beneficiary of local philanthropy and those ingrates itch to snatch a larger slice of pie, which they euphemistically call controlling their own destiny. If the museum schedules an auction of its own just ahead of the Ad Club auction, or at the exact same hour, that will tell the tale.

Richard Wheeler