Comptroller: City Art Lost, Stolen, and Damaged

Report suggests City Hall takes poor care of public art.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has released a report suggesting the city takes poor care of its publicly owned art—allowing some pieces to be damaged and others to go missing. His press release:

City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released a performance audit of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy that found the city does not adequately maintain its more than 1,000-piece artwork collection.




A review of the city’s Art Collection Manual, which is intended to outline policies to properly safeguard the collection, revealed it did not include procedures for loaning, relocation, valuing and cataloging individual art pieces.

“Without an adequate record management system, art pieces could be in jeopardy of theft or loss or damaged without management’s knowledge,” said Butkovitz.

Out of the 25 art pieces selected for observation, auditors found that half, 13, were either damaged, vandalized, unable to be positively identified, could not be located, or failed to be accurately identified as to the location in the inventory listing. This included a painting at the Whitman Branch Library by well-known Philadelphia watercolorist Howard Watson that was damaged with holes punched in each corner of the painting.

“It’s disheartening that a painting by one of Philadelphia’s own was ruined because there were no procedures in place to protect it,” said Butkovitz.

Additional audit findings included the following:

• The inventory listing did not identify the value of each art piece, making it difficult to determine the cost benefit of maintaining each individual piece.

• Periodic physical observations by the city have not been performed in more than a decade.

• The inventory listing did not accurately identify the location of each individual art piece and its current condition.

“The Art Manual needs to include a process for conducting periodic site visits on a rolling basis, at least every five years,” said Butkovitz. “Additionally, the City needs to value all art pieces to determine the priority for repairing and to evaluate the need for insurance.”

Unsaid, in the press release anyway, is a motivation for tracking and valuing publicly owned art: The k">city of Detroit has talked about selling some of its more valued art as a means of getting out of bankruptcy. Hopefully similar steps aren't needed here naytime soon.

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