The Curator Who Cared Too Much
Ball "sort of shot himself in the foot" by going public, says Chris Dempsey, a former assistant curator of the collection. Dempsey, who wrote his dissertation on the Stearns, doubts Ball's valuation--"my estimate is $5 million"--but says he understands his frustration. The collection has been shuffled from place to place on the U-M campus for decades, with some instruments damaged in the process. Though select pieces are on display at the music school and at Hill Auditorium, most are stored in an old factory near downtown.
Damage control fell to music dean Christopher Kendall. "We were in touch with people just for assuring them that the collection is safe and secure," says the soft-spoken administrator, while a PR staffer takes notes. "There are many people who care a lot about the collection." Kendall says the school has been working to design a bigger, humidity-controlled storage space, a move he expects to see completed at the end of this year. They're also looking for ways to supplement the existing displays at the School of Music building and Hill Auditorium. Kendall praises Ball--who is untenured--for his "care and passion," noting that he has "completely digitized the collection," putting nearly 13,000 images of the collection online.
Karoub, who also wrote about other "orphan" collections, was surprised at the ruckus the story caused--and insists that he didn't ambush anyone. "There was nothing underhanded and/or secretive about it," he says in a quick phone interview. "People spoke freely and on the record. It wasn't 'gotcha' journalism."