Thursday, March 05, 2009

Court’s ruling on Gardner

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling giving approval to the Gardner museum’s renovation and expansion plans is a sweeping endorsement of Gardner leaders’ interpretation of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s will. (Read the entire 6-page judgment – pdf – here.)

The key issue at stake was whether the proposed changes to the main museum building – and demolition of other buildings on the grounds to make room for new construction – were in line with restrictions in her will on changes to the buildings and the display of the collection. Judge Francis X. Spina writes that the changes were reasonable.

But beyond that the decision is a repudiation of the claims of the Friends of Historic Mission Hill in their amicus brief opposing the museum’s plans. In particular, Spina disagrees with the Friends’ charge that the museum failed to consider alternatives – noting that submissions to and reviews by the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Massachusetts Historical Commission included “consideration of alternatives.” And in each case, the judge states, the museum’s proposal was approved.

Spina concludes: “the plaintiff’s proposed project is a reasonable deviation from subordinate terms of the charitable gift in the Will of Isabella Stewart Gardner. It is driven by the primary purpose of the charitable gift. It is entirely consistent with the primary purpose. It is in the public interest because it will extend the life of the building, it will reduce the risk of harm to the art objects from the increased number of visitors to the museum, and it will make a visit to the museum more meaningful for viewing art by reducing congestion.”


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