The Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is defending its controversial decision to sell four valuable paintings. The Chamber will now let local people bid on the paintings over the next two weeks. There’s a minimum price for each painting, or someone can buy the group for a minimum of $500,000. The buyer must also agree to donate the artwork to a local agency like the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. If no one bids by the November 20th deadline, the paintings will be auctioned off in New York a week later.

Chamber Board Chair Ralph Russell says the Chamber could use the proceeds of the say to make some much needed changes in the community. Chamber President Lee Clancey says many people have criticized the Chamber for selling the historic artwork that includes four pieces by artists Marvin Cone, Grant Wood and Norman Rockwell.

Clancey says, "We have been sort of raked over the coals in the media over the last few weeks in terms of — we don’t care. We’re rubes. We must be stupid to let this out of the community." Clancey says they understand the local and historical value. So, they’re doing everything they can to keep the paintings here in Iowa. "We could have, as a private organization, been quiet about this. We could have just sent them all to New York and not said anything. The reason why we didn’t is because we would like to have them stay in the local area," Clancey says.

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art Executive Director Terry Pitts hopes someone locally will step forward. "The ideal solution would be to have these works purchased by some charitable soul who would donate them to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art," Pitts says, "I hope there are some charitable soul in the community, and I sincerely hope we can save one or more of these works of art."

The Chamber will accept local bids for the artwork until November 20th. If it doesn’t get an acceptable offer, the paintings will go up for bid at a New York auction house on November 28th. Chamber officials say the artwork would likely sell at the auction for higher than the local asking price of 500-thousand dollars. But, they’re offering the discounted rate to try and keep the paintings in Iowa.