October 15, 2003
LAFAYETTE — It may be four years before Lafayette residents get the chance to see the work of Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Paul Gaugin, according to Herman Mhire, director of the University Art Museum at UL Lafayette.
Mhire said that he hopes to reschedule the exhibition of paintings from France for 2007, “which coincidentally is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Marquis de Lafayette, for whom Lafayette is named.” The exhibition would have been the inaugural event for the $16 million art museum.
In a press release issued Monday afternoon, UL Lafayette President Ray Authement said there was not enough time for the university to test the climate controls of the new facility and to guarantee that the proper environment existed for the art.
Mhire said the museum received a $200,000 grant from the Louisiana Office of Tourism for the million-dollar exhibit. The grant required the museum to apply for the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program, administered by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Under the program, Mhire said, “the federal government assumes the risk.” Mhire said that the administrator of the program, Alice M. Whelihan, encouraged the museum to apply for the program, even though the program rarely accepts inaugural exhibitions presented in newly constructed buildings.
Mhire said that after the museum’s application was denied, an insurance policy from Huntington Block was secured for the exhibit.
Henry Bernstein, general counsel for the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said the Office of Tourism has made a series of payments to the museum totaling $125,000. Bernstein said that the university will have to account for the money it has already spent.
“They don’t have to refund us the money they’ve already spent,” he said. “If they have funds they have not spent, then yes, they have to return those.”
Mhire said that he was uncertain about the exact amount of state funds that had already been spent, but estimated it was one-third to one-half of the total.
Mhire said that the exhibit was delayed solely because of the instability of the new facility’s climate control systems.
Paul Hilliard said that the postponement of the museum’s first exhibit hasn’t undermined its mission. The owner of Badger Oil in Lafayette, Hilliard provided the lead gift of $3 million to build the new facility.
“It’s like in the military — it’s the mission, not the man,” Hilliard said. You’ve got to always bear that in mind. We’re not going to let a little glitch like this be a deterrent of any sort. I think Herman and everybody who was associated with it was disappointed, but I think we just cut it too close.”