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Deaccession Obsession: AAM’s Statement on Regents’ Reneging on Regs

Ford Bell, AAM’s president

This just in from Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums:

AAM finds the decision of the NY State Board of Regents to permit museums to sell objects in their collections to cover operating costs [see my comment, below] disturbing, holding possibly severe ramifications for the museum field. Museums are all about public service, conserving their collections in the public trust. The potential to deaccession objects to raise operating funds is counter to the museum mission, while potentially eroding the trust and confidence of donors, patrons, financial backers and the public at large ─ that trust is the coin of the realm for museums nationwide.

Giving museums an “out clause” of the generally accepted ethics and standards of the museum field in times of financial exigency is a bad precedent and sends the wrong message to the public about the role and values of museums. The idea of “just this one time” is the beginning of a slippery slope.

Since the first museum was founded on this continent in 1773, one axiom has always held true: the museum is there to preserve the collection; the collection is not there to preserve the museum. Museums have lived by this creed for more than 200 years, and contrary behavior affects the credibility of all museums and their integral role in our educational infrastructure.

Actually, as I wrote here, AAM’s assumption in the first sentence is, I believe, incorrect. The expiration of the emergency amendment leaves in place the preexisting regulations, which did prohibit the use of deaccession proceeds for operating expenses. (See bottom of Page 5-top of Page 6 of the regulations for museum collections management policies. The parts that are not underlined are from the old regulations, which will remain in force.)

But unlike the emergency amendment, the old regs did not specificly prohibit use of deaccession proceeds to defray capital expenses or debts—a needed stipulation in these financially perilous times, when the temptation to monetize collections is acute.

CultureGrrl, I confess, was guilty of contributing to the confusion over operating expenses, when I quoted as authoritative two paragraphs from Robin Pogrebin‘s NY Times account. In my follow-up post, I tried to clear up the muddle; the NY Times should too.

Will the Association of Art Museum Directors have anything to say about the Regents’ actions?

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