Under the Hat: The Hassam Haggle - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Under the Hat: The Hassam Haggle

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It was a sight to behold, two white-bearded warriors locked in mortal combat with millions of dollars on the line.

Okay, that might be a bit much and I wouldn't want anyone to pull my literary license.

But it was interesting.

On one side, you have County Executive Barry Grossman arguing harsh realities and on the other, Erie Art Museum Director John Vanco with talk of culture and heritage.

The forum: the Jefferson Education Society.

The prize?

A painting called Summer Afternoon, Isle of Shoals painted by American impressionist Childe Hassam owned by the community and valued at between two and three million dollars.

They aren't new arguments, but they are representative of the fight going on in communities and school districts across the country.

As you surely must know by now, a commission put together by Grossman has recommended, in a split vote mind you, to sell the Hassam to create a permanent endowment that would fund the struggling library system.

Like many publicly funded efforts, libraries have been taking budget cuts in recent years and are in line for another 5 percent whack this year.

Grossman is arguing, at the debate podium and elsewhere, that the County can ill afford to have several million dollars just hanging on a wall when those dollars could be out working for a greater good.

Vanco and others in the arts community say that funding shortfalls have come and gone before and it defies the will of the original donors to sell off the work for operating expenses.

Erie County isn't alone.

School districts across the country are looking at whether taxpayers can afford arts and music programs in schools.

Others wonder if we can afford not to.

Grossman has said he is open to other ideas but with state coffers and taxpayer wallets both running dry those options are few and far between.

One bright spot is the gambling dollars finally coming online to help with regional assets and other quality of life endeavors.

But with at least one arts association willing to go to court if the County moves to sell, it's also clear that the haggle over the Hassam is far from over.

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