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NYS Regents Back Down on Deaccession Regulations

Regent James Dawson ducks the vote.

Back in August, when it appeared that the bill introduced in the New York State Legislature to regulate museum deaccessions was dead, its chief sponsor, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, told me:

The Regents’ regulations [my link, not his], warts and all, will provide significant protections for 98% of cultural
institutions [those chartered after 1889].

“The museum lobby has gotten its way,” I wrote in my post reporting on the Brodsky Bill’s unfortunate fate. But little did I know that this setback in safeguarding the public’s patrimony was just the beginning: It now appears that the State Board of Regents’ temporary regulations tightening standards for deaccessioning (which the Regents had repeatedly indicated they would make permanent) are also dead.

Robin Pogrebin
of the NY Times reports:

In a surprise development in the battle over whether museums should
be allowed to sell art to cover operating costs, the New York State
Board of Regents on Tuesday approved the expiration of emergency
regulations regarding such “deaccessioning” on Oct. 8.

Those rules, which enjoined such sales, have been in effect since
2008. After hearing views from museums statewide, “there was no
consensus on the efficacy of those emergency regulations,” David
, the state’s education commissioner, said in a statement.

The Regents’ vote against adopting the amendment to their collections management policies for cultural institutions went contrary to the recommendation of Jeffrey Cannell, deputy commissioner
for cultural education
, who had advised the board’s Cultural Education Committee to adopt the temporary emergency regulations as a “permanent rule [to] become effective on Oct. 6, 2010.”

According to the online report of Monday’s Cultural Education Committee meeting, Regent Roger Tilles, the committee’s chair, “suggested that the proposed amendment would not be a significant
improvement of the existing rules and that it would be more appropriate
to maintain the existing language.” Regent Charles Bendit offered a motion to indefinitely postpone action on the amendment and three Regents voted in favor. Two abstained, including James Dawson, who at last January’s Deaccession Roundtable in New York spoke eloquently in favor of tightening the Regents’ deaccession regulations.

We have now had two shocking developments this week involving unexpected and seemingly illogical turnarounds by public officials on the question of institutional art disposals—the Regents’ inadequately explained about-face and yesterday’s court order by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle in the Fisk/Steiglitz Collection case.

What I really want to know is: Where are AAM and AAMD when we really need them? AAM was an early activist when it first looked like the Regents were going soft on deaccessioning. And it’s surely time for AAMD to rethink its muddled August statement praising Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s position on Fisk/Stieglitz. As I stated here, AAMD was operating on the mistaken assumption that the judge had ruled out the $30-million Fisk/Crystal Bridges collection-sharing arrangement. She has now, in fact, indicated her inclination to rule in favor.

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