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Delaware Art Museum’s Game Plan: Pay Debts with Art, Then Search for New Director

DelArtMus

More on this here, here and here.

Are the floodgates opening? Close upon Randolph College’s sale  of its Maier Museum’s “Men of the Docks” to bolster its endowment, the Delaware Art Museum has announced its plan to sell up to four artworks from its collection to “repay the full balance of the museum’s $19.8-million bond debt and replenish the museum’s endowment.” It hopes to raise some $30 million.

According to the announcement:

The process will begin immediately, and the sale will be finalized in the next six months. No works of art acquired through gift or bequest will be part of the sale…. The Trustees sought the guidance of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Despite this lengthy process, no options to relieve the Museum’s debt proved viable, forcing the Trustees to consider the last resort of selling works from the collection.

But as quoted by Randy Kennedy in the NY Times, Timothy Rub, director of AAMD, “said he believed the museum did not seriously explore options other than selling.”

AAMD’s professional guidelines stipulate that proceeds from artworks must be used only for purchases of other works for the collection. Lacking a director since Danielle Rice left last September (actually, as she told me later, the end of August) to direct the program in museum leadership at Drexel University, the Delaware Art Museum is not currently a member of AAMD. (Neither is the Maier Museum, on which AAMD imposed sanctions two weeks ago.) Mike Miller, the Delaware’s chief financial officer, has been serving as the museum’s acting chief executive officer during the director’s search.

The Delaware museum incurred its bond debt in connection with its renovation and three-wing expansion, which opened shortly after Rice arrived in 2005.

In his letter to members regarding the decision to sanction the Maier Art Museum for selling the Bellows, Rub had stated:

This remains an extraordinary action on the part of AAMD, extraordinary because we are fortunate that situations requiring such extreme action have been few indeed.

It appears that such “situations” may become more frequent. In selling art to pay debts, the museum appears to be flouting its own collections policy. The Delaware Museum’s own Q&A regarding its plan states:

The recent decision to deaccession and sell up to four works of art was made by the Board of Trustees acting in its fiduciary role. This supersedes the deaccessioning policy described in the Museum’s Collections Policy.

More egregiously, the museum states in its Q&A that “the names of the works [to be sold] will be made public when the sale is concluded [emphasis added]. This strongly suggests that the sales will be arranged privately, not at public auction. In the interest of transparency, museums should disclose the identity of any important works that are being deaccessioned, before they are sold. (Even Randolph College did that much.)

The Q&A also suggests that the need to bolster the museum’s finances is the reason why the director’s search has been postponed until next fall, a full year after Rice left:

Under the steady leadership of our CEO Mike Miller, who brought his invaluable business acumen [but not his professional museum experience] from his time at the DuPont Company, we made our fiscal challenges an urgent matter that deserved our full focus and utmost attention. With these challenges solved, we now will be able to place high priority on a national search for our next leader.

The notion that the search for “our next leader” will proceed smoothly after violating the strict standards honored by the vast majority of art museum professionals is dubious at best.

an ArtsJournal blog