A trustee of the University of the District of Columbia said yesterday he will ask the board to reconsider plans to provide a $1.6 million home at the school's downtown campus for "The Dinner Party," a controversial artwork that has drawn the financially strapped school into the congressional debate over federal funding for the arts.
Trustee Joseph Webb said he will ask board Chairman Nira Hardon Long to convene a special meeting so the trustees can get full information on the cost of displaying feminist artist Judy Chicago's work, which details the history of women and includes sexual imagery.
More than a third of the trustees reached yesterday agreed with Webb's proposal. Many were angered by the decision last week by the House of Representatives to cut money from the UDC budget, and some questioned why the board leadership did not disclose the full cost of accepting the work, which is being offered as a gift.
But even those who now want to reconsider said that they had been convinced that "The Dinner Party" would generate much-needed revenue for UDC and that they don't want to abandon the project.
The board in June authorized spending $80,000 to clean the artwork and have it moved from a California warehouse to the Carnegie Library on UDC's downtown campus. That amount also included up to $30,000 to pay someone to coordinate the display.
"We were told the value of it was in the millions," Webb said. "I thought that was a very good investment for $80,000."
But several board members said yesterday that they were unaware that an estimated $1.6 million in renovations would be required at the Carnegie Library as a condition of the gift. And they raised questions about why Mary Jo Aagerstound, a friend and associate of Trustee Patricia A. Mathis's, has been mentioned as the choice to coordinate the exhibit.
The members' shift came days after the House cut $1.6 million from UDC's budget after a few lawmakers called "The Dinner Party" pornographic.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, while not cutting the university's budget, questioned the UDC trustees' fiscal management of the university and ordered the board to report to it every three months on the school's financial condition.
"We don't have any choice but to reconsider because of the damage done to the educational program," said Herbert O. Reid Sr., vice chairman of the UDC board.
Chairman Long said yesterday that some members of the board's finance committee were aware of renovation costs associated with the gift. But the full board did not discuss those costs, Long said, because the money would come from the District's capital improvement budget.
The D.C. Council two weeks ago approved a bond issue to raise $1.2 million. The cost to the city over a 20-year payback will be about $2.4 million, according to the city.
Long and Mathis said yesterday that the city Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics ruled that it would not be a conflict if Mathis's associate was chosen to coordinate the project. Chicago's nonprofit foundation, Through the Flower Corp., suggested Aagerstound for the job, according to a board source. Mathis is an hononary member of Through the Flower's board, according to UDC trustee records.
Long said the decision on who would get the $30,000-a-year job would be left to the UDC administration, so there would be no reason to notify board members.
"We've been kicked in the face by this," said Trustee Alonza Evans, an alumni representative on the board. "With what we're going through now in Washington, D.C., the last thing we need is even the appearance of impropriety with this board."