This is an issue on which the AAMD, AAM and museums in New York State will surely want to take IMMEDIATE action, by e-mailing comments to David Palmquist, head of museum chartering for the NY State Board of Regents. (He will forward comments to the board):
The NY State Board of Regents is primed to take action this Monday and Tuesday to approve an Emergency Amendment Relating to Museum Collections Management Policies. (To read it, go here, click on “Cultural Education,” and then click on the third item, which is the “Emergency Amendment.”)
In the words of the proposed amendment, a state-chartered nonprofit museum or historical society (and most such institutions in the state are required to be chartered) would be permitted, “with the
approval of the Board of Regents, to sell or transfer items or material
in its collections to another museum or historical society for purposes
of obtaining funds to pay outstanding debt, and thereby provide an
alternative to the institution’s bankruptcy or dissolution, and the
possible loss or liquidation of a collection because of debt.”
This runs directly counter to the American Association of Museums’ deaccessioning guidelines, which are embodied in the state’s current rules (scroll down to: 6—Collections Care and Management, e, vi—Deaccessions):
Proceeds derived from the deaccessioning
of any property from the institution’s collection…[may] be used only for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care
of collections. In no event shall proceeds derived from the deaccessioning
of any property from the collection be used for operating expenses or for
any purposes other than the acquisition, preservation, protection or care
Palmquist told me that he has heard of some 10-25 institutions that are considering desperation-deaccessions because of pressing financial circumstances. He feels that in situations where an institution might be forced to declare bankruptcy and liquidate its entire collection, limited deaccessioning is the lesser of evils.
At its meeting in Albany this Monday, the Cultural Education Committee of the NY State Board of Regents, which oversees chartered museums and historical societies in the state, will consider the proposed desperation-deaccession amendment. The full Board of Regents is expected to vote on it Tuesday. If approved, the amendment will become effective Dec. 19 and remain in effect for 90 days. The amendment is then expected to be presented to the board for adoption as a permanent rule, at its March meeting.
Museums had very little notice that this change was contemplated: Palmquist first notified chartered museums and historical societies about the amendment in an e-mail sent yesterday. A statement (linked at the top) by the State Education Department about the proposed
changes is dated Dec. 1.
Palmquist told me that the National Academy, which has just secretly deaccessioned two important paintings, is not subject to the
Regents’ oversight and deaccessioning guidelines, having received its charter directly from
the state legislature in 1858. The Regents did not receive their power to
charter until 1890.
Palmquist said that discussions began yesterday about the need to “rationalize the system,” so that its deaccession guidelines would apply to all nonprofit museums and historical societies, whether or not they were originally chartered by the Regents. Those discussions, he said, were initiated in direct response to the National Academy disposals.
The Cultural Education Committee’s discussion on the amendment (open to the public but not to public comment) will be held Monday, 2:45-4:15 p.m., in Room 146 of the Education Building, 89 Washington Ave., Albany. The meeting of the full Board of Regents on Tuesday (where the vote on the amendment will be taken) will be on the 5th floor of the same building.