David Merhib, director of Visual Arts at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, S.D., says the institution is now the proud and very excited owner of the 16-piece Northern Plains Indian Art Collection auctioned off by the Internal Revenue Service on Jan. 31. The IRS sold the collection, which belonged to the nonprofit American Indian Services of Sioux Falls, to satisfy $118,157 in tax liens.
"There were four or five other bidders in the audience," says Merhib. "Some had come to the preview and a few came to buy specific pieces." The IRS started the auction by soliciting bids for the entire collection. The Washington Pavilion bid $24,750, the minimum set by the IRS. Then the IRS auctioned the individual pieces. If the total bids had come to more than Washington Pavilion's $24,750 offer, the collection would have been broken up. "After first five or six bids, we knew we would get the collection," says Merhib.
Altogether, the Washington Pavilion raised $46,000 for the effort to secure the collection and create a space to show it. Merhib is now talking with contractors about converting the Egger Library into the Egger Gallery to house the collection. In addition, the gallery will show pieces from the Washington Pavilion's permanent collection of American Indian art as well as collections acquired through loan or purchase from other entities. "We want to continue to preserve these pieces for years to come. We have accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums and our intent is to have a permanent gallery of American Indian art, mostly from the Northern Plains. One of our goals is to help boost the economic development of this area by supporting tourism."
Naming rights for the collection just purchased will go to a major contributor to the fundraising drive, Augustana College of Sioux Falls. "Altogether there were 47 contributors," says Merhib. "Without all of their efforts, this never would have happened."