Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums
A forcefully worded letter sent Friday by Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums, to the NY State Board of Regents may well have been crucial in turning the tide against the Regents’ now aborted proposal to allow museums and historical societies to sell collection objects to defray debts. (Christine Anagnos, deputy director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, whom I contacted for a copy of any letter that group may have sent, informed me: “AAMD has not released a statement.”)
Below are excerpts from Bell’s ringing manifesto:
It is precisely because we are in difficult times that we must keep our professional ethics about us, for it is by sticking to our ethics when times are bad as well as good that we earn the public trust. This is particularly true when the subject is museum collections….With a private collection, you may be able to see it today, but you have no assurance that you will see it tomorrow. With a museum, you have the assurance that its collection will be available to the community for generations to come….
An analogy we use is that allowing a museum to trade its collection to cover operating debts would be like allowing a financial fiduciary, such as a bank, to raid assets it holds in a trust to cover a hole in its own balance sheet. This would be inconceivable. It should be equally inconceivable for a museum to raid the assets placed in trust with it….
Any New York museum accredited by AAM which avails itself of this emergency provision [allowing deaccessions to pay debts], should it be adopted, would face immediate review of its Accredited status and probable loss of Accreditation.