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Floyd County Library trustee admonishes board for split from Carnegie nonprofit

Exterior of the Floyd County Library Cultural Arts Center, formerly known as the Carnegie Center for Art and History, in downtown New Albany.
Aprile Rickert
The Floyd County Library Cultural Arts Center, formerly known as the Carnegie Center for Art and History, in downtown New Albany.

Outgoing Floyd County Library Trustees President Roger Whaley criticized the board this week for its recent decision to cut ties with a nonprofit that has helped fund the former Carnegie Center for Art and History.

At its November meeting, the Floyd County Library Board of Trustees voted 6-0 with Whaley abstaining to dissolve the relationship between the library and the Carnegie Center for Art and History Inc. The nonprofit organization has helped support the former Carnegie Center in downtown New Albany.

The resolution included changing the center’s name to the Floyd County Library Cultural Arts Center, “to clear up any and all community misunderstandings of ownership and operations of the building and collection, making a clear division between the two entities.”

The Carnegie Center was previously known as the Floyd County Museum, which opened in 1971, according to information from Floyd County Library Director Melissa Merida. The museum became a division of the library in 1988, changing to the Carnegie Center for Art and History 10 years later.

Whaley spoke following a meeting Monday, saying that in his more than four decades of work with the library, he had “never seen anything that rivals the divisive resolution concerning Carnegie Inc. approved by this board.” Whaley is married to Janie Whaley, who has served as vice president and secretary of the Carnegie Inc. board.

He said he felt the library board had been a victim of manipulation, and that it had “just cut off its collective nose to spite its face.”

“I honestly do not understand why this board would divorce itself from another organization whose sole purpose is to raise money in support of our Carnegie Center and by extension, for the good of this library,” Whaley said.

The nonprofit has given supplementary support for the center’s programs and exhibitions, according to an announcement last month on the change. Merida said Carnegie Inc. has provided around $28,000 this year.

That goes toward things like wine and food at exhibition openings, some artist payments and restoration work, she said.

But she said the split from the nonprofit won’t alter how the library operates the center. They’ll still maintain the collection, and staff there are employees of the library.

“From the community side, not much will change at all,” she said.

Library Board of Trustees member Steve Burks, who moved to pass the resolution last month, declined to provide reasons for the split after Monday’s meeting, telling LPM News “all my comments [were] already made when we passed the resolution.”

Merida said it’s not just one issue that led to the end of the partnership, but “several years of things that have happened over time.”

“I can’t point to one thing and say, ‘This is the reason why,’ but it’s just having that long trail of … our missions might be going in different directions,” she said.

Minutes from the Sept. 11 library board meeting also show trustees discussed plans for Carnegie Inc. to donate $50,000 to the Falls of the Ohio Foundation for an Underground Railroad project.

Members expressed concern about money raised in the name of the library or Carnegie Center going to other projects.

“The Board of Trustees acknowledges Carnegie Inc.’s directives that they are not explicitly fundraising for the benefit of the Carnegie Center for Art and History, a branch of the library,” the resolution ending the relationship in November reads. “In response to this change … the library no longer gives permission to fund raise utilizing the library or any of our locations names as their primary fund raising purpose.”

In addition to the Carnegie collection remaining under library control, people who have memberships through Carnegie Inc. will still have access to perks related to library services through the end of 2024.

The library also requested an independent audit to determine how to allocate existing funds raised by the nonprofit.

In public comment Monday, Tom Jones, who has been involved with the center, said though he’s disappointed about the end of the partnership, he understands what’s led to it.

“What I can’t understand, however, is why the name of the building’s most generous benefactor has to be caught up in it,” he said.

He suggested the board modify the name to include Carnegie.

The building that houses the center was erected in the early 1900s from a $35,000 gift provided by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The board is expected to revisit the center’s name at its January meeting, where Erica Lawrence will take over as the new board president.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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