Power play at art museum

By Todd Cohen

At the North Carolina Museum of Art, money talks.

The private North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation has raised big money for the public museum, and now has a big voice running it.

The foundation supplements the state pay of museum employees, violating state law, and employs and pays the museum’s chief operating and chief financial officers, the state auditor says.

The foundation also pumps up the compensation of Larry Wheeler, museum director.

While the foundation provides resources, know-how and vision state government lacks, Wheeler’s pay boost and the foundation’s power over museum operations make them look like black-tie pirates who have commandeered a public treasure built and funded by taxpayers.

Wheeler’s fundraising prowess seems to have blinded him and his boss, Secretary of Cultural Resources Libba Evans, to their public duties.

And the foundation seems to believe its fundraising gives it a mandate to spend without limits.

While details of the museum deal seem over the top, public-private partnerships are essential in a competitive marketplace, and should not be illegal.

But taxpayers need reassurance they are not subsidizing private clubs run amok.

Gov. Mike Easley should find a way to ensure state cultural institutions’ private clout and public accountability.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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