Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rose Overseers Sue Brandeis

This story is all over the blogosphere, but this from The Wall Street Journal:

Three overseers of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum sued the college, seeking to halt plans to sell prized works from the museum's $350 million collection.

The three plaintiffs and Rose overseers filing the suit are: Lois Foster, who has a museum wing named after her and says Brandeis is now holding her to a pledge of $1.8 million in her will to endow the museum director's chair; Meryl Rose, a member of the family that established the museum; and Jonathan Lee, chairman of the board of overseers whose mother was an early donor of art to the museum.

Donn Zaretsky observes that "for a suit that (as Paddy characterizes it) aims 'to halt closure of Brandeis University’s museum,' it's something of a problem that there is no plan to close the museum."

The legal briefs and other documents can be read on Scribd here. The Boston Globe has a snippet here, and The Boston Herald here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Museum Closings, Layoffs, and Cutbacks

USA Today on the escalating death of museums.

Ford Bell, president of the American Association for Museums, says the losses in three of the largest funding sources for museums is a "triple whammy." "Museum attendance is very, very strong, but unfortunately, attendance doesn't provide a big chunk of the income," he says. But despite the large number of volunteers and two $45,000 gifts from anonymous donors, the museum still had to cut back: It's now open five days a week instead of six.


The University of Wyoming's Geological Museum in Laramie faced a similar problem when the state cut funding to the university by 10%.


Though smaller institutions are being hit the hardest, even larger museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago are tightening belts. Nancy O'Shea, the museum's public relations director, says a declining endowment value led officials to trim staff and cut pay for all employees making more than $75,000.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is also cutting back. Its director, Thomas Campbell, says the museum cut 14% of its staff to cope with losses in its endowment and decreases in membership and corporate sponsors. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is also reducing staff and postponing or lengthening exhibitions after a 27% decline in its endowment.

And finally...

[I]n Detroit, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Art, says the museum had to cut $3 million in operating costs and another $3 million by reducing staff because of a loss of state support.

Continue those anti-deaccessioning petitions!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Museum Association of NY: "Don't Sell Off Assets"

An interesting article from The Albany Times Union last week arguing in support of the Brodsky Bill. Ann Ackerson, the director of the Museum Association of New York, comes up with several "solutions" to the financial nightmares facing museums today. They're listed below with a bit of commentary on my part.

Among the solutions could be:

A revolving loan fund that strapped museums could tap into to buy time to restructure and figure out their next steps.

Really? And who's going to fund this "revolving loan fund"? How will these "loans" be secured, with museum assets? (read: the same artwork that is so preciously safeguarded?) Is this more Obama-esque socialism, creating a fund to be tapped by irresponsible and uninformed constituents?

A check-off box on the state personal income tax that gives residents the opportunity to make a contribution to an arts fund. (That legislation is pending.)

Great idea. Just what art needs: the continued belief that it is the public that must nurture and support flailing art institutions and irresponsible board management. Snarkiness aside, it's better than higher taxes on those with "disposable income."

Access to the state's health insurance program and aggregated energy purchasing to help lower two big chunks of operating costs.

Not bad, but stricter budget oversight may not hurt either. Let's look at travel expenses, installation fees, insurance, shipping and handling, and salaries as well.

Comprehensive board and leadership training.

Best idea on the list. What probably would save many art institutions money is stricter IRS oversight of needless spending and outrageous art project budgets. Not one for more government, there may be something to be said in mandating that all non-profit boards set aside financial resources for legal, administrative, and business training by experts, for-profit and non-profit alike. I like this one.

Let's also look at the state's current grant reimbursement system, which can keep nonprofits waiting months or years to receive project funding, forcing them to borrow funds and take on added debt.

I'm not sure there's a constitutional right to expedited treatment based solely on an entity being a nonprofit tax-exempt corporation. Shall we make flailing nonprofit museums and institutions a protected class too? The fourth factor above, or simple common sense, could remedy this mess: just don't spend what you don't have. Sound familiar?

Monday, July 20, 2009

CAA Circulates Anti-Deaccessioning Petition

From CAA's website, and also circulated via e-mail:

Petition to Support University Galleries and Museums
posted by Linda Downs

Several university art museums or their school administrations have recently sold, or have attempted to sell, artworks and objects in their collections to offset operating costs. In response to this, CAA has joined a task force supporting the educational importance of preserving collections at university museums and galleries. The task force—which includes representatives from the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation—has established a two-pronged effort: 1) to recognize museums as integral educational resources in the university accreditation process; and 2) to heighten public awareness of the educational value of art museum collections.

Members of the task force are meeting with accreditation organizations throughout the country to enlist their support for the recognition of art museums as integral educational resources.

A petition has been prepared that reaffirms the integrity and value of university and college museums.

Please show support for our efforts by adding your name and affiliation to this petition, which will be published in the Chronicle of Higher Education this fall. Please encourage your university, college, or museum to sign it as well.

Thank you for your support on this critical issue.

Paul B. Jaskot, President, and Linda Downs, Executive Director

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum: no right to the work and no standing in court (update)

Tennessee's Court of Appeals rejected claims this week from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum that it can challenge the sale by Fisk University of paintings donated to it by the late artist.

In the ruling filed Tuesday, the court said any right O'Keeffe had to most of the 101 works of art ended with her death. The financially struggling university had asked a lower court for permission to sell two of the works — O'Keeffe's 1927 oil painting "Radiator Building — Night, New York," and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3."

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum objected to the plan, arguing that Fisk was violating the terms of the bequest, which required the works be displayed together, and asking for the artwork to be turned over to the estate.

Note: This entry was posted last week with the following headline, "Court Rules Fisk University Can't Sell O'Keefe Paintings," when it should have read "Court Rules Fisk University Can Sell O'Keefe Paintings." We regret any misinformation that may have ensued. Thank you.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

RISD: "Closing the Museum for the Month of August"

The Providence Journal reported today that regardless of its popularity and due to economic pressures, the Rhode Island School of Design museum will be closing for the month of August.

In May, for example, school officials announced plans to cut up to 30 staff positions, mainly by eliminating unfilled jobs and offering early-retirement incentives to older workers. At the same time, the union representing RISD’s full time faculty voted to accept a self-imposed wage freeze. The museum’s cost-cutting has been, if anything, even more dramatic.

According to Alswang, six museum employees opted for early retirement, while eight others were lost to “involuntary layoffs.” (Citing school privacy rules, Alswang declined to give names or job titles for either group, although at least one curatorial employee ... was among those laid off.) In addition, the museum hopes to save money by mounting fewer large exhibitions and by extending gallery displays of the museum’s permanent collection.

But it’s another cost-saving move — closing the museum for the month of August.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Chicago Weighs in on Deaccessioning Battle

This just in from Art Talk Chicago:

Before we get to the substantive content of the article, I do believe the best--and most common sensical--point of view on deaccessioning comes from one of the readers.

To fake it, to deny reality, is exactly how our country, our museums and my restaurant got into trouble in the first place. But trouble is an opportunity. What you do with the opportunity is art.

The article, by Dawoud Bey, begins:

"Art Institute of Chicago Lays Off 22 Employees," "Met Museum Lays Off 14% of Staff," "Detroit Institute Dismisses 56 Full-time and Seven Part-time Staff," "Spertus Cuts Its Hours to 2 1/2 Days A Month," "High Museum Lays Off 15 More Workers," and on and on it goes, across the country from one region to the next and from one institution to another. These are hard times for everyone and museums are no exception. Along with a growing string of layoffs museums across the country are also being forced to cancel or postpone exhibitions that have been on the drawing board in some cases for years.

Even with that gem of an introduction, Bey still finds the selling of art for administrative purposes to be "ethically and legally" dubious. We know this already, mostly from what Donn Zaretsky calls the "deaccessioning police." If mass layoffs, furloughs, cancelled and postponed exhibitions isn't enough, are we really waiting for the closing of an entire museum or art institution?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Price is (not) Right, and Warhol Foundation on OCMA Deaccessioning

The LA Times' Mike Boehm writes twice today on the OCMA deaccessioning. His articles are here and here.

In the first article, Boehm takes "a broader look at OCMA, including how, before the [Los Angeles] Times broke the news of its controversial sale of the 18 California Impressionist paintings to an unnamed collector, it had been getting its name around for all the right reasons, as an organizer of acclaimed touring exhibitions. "

In the second article (appearing later in the day), Boehm quotes "Joel Wachs, a former Los Angeles city councilman who heads the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York, [saying] he 'was appalled' by what he's read about its deaccessioning. The Warhol Foundation backed OCMA's recent exhibitions on Heilmann and Peter Saul with grants, but now 'we will have to reevaluate' whether to continue, Wachs said. 'It doesn't pass the smell test initially. I'll have to talk to Dennis' to hear his version, he said, 'but it's cause for alarm.'"

Director of the Albany Institute of History & Art on Deaccessioning

Christine Miles, no stranger to the deaccessioning wars, writes in the Albany Times Union, that the Brodsky Bill's "intentions are honorable, but it ignores the dire realities that museums face."

Our substantial collection includes one million items. Many of them have resided at the Albany Institute for centuries. All of them need to be indexed, insured and preserved in a state-of-the-art climate-controlled, secured facility. And that costs lots of money. Almost half of our roughly $2 million budget goes toward the care, maintenance and exhibition of our collections.

She attacks New York State's aggressive anti-deaccessioning stance by arguing that, "[i]f [New York's] legislature cared as much about the arts institutions that maintain the treasures it is trying to protect, perhaps it would have expended a similar amount of time and effort to ensure that they were properly funded."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Deaccessioning Via Private Sales and Auctioning

Last Thursday's Wall Street Journal contains another concise and lucid argument by Daniel Grant on deaccessioning. This time Grant delineates the pros and cons of private and public art sales by museums without the usual hysteria that accompanies the debate over deaccessioning.

In fact, Grant gives wonderful examples of situations where a museum may want to sell all of its collection to one private buyer (read Orange County Museum of Art), and others where the museum may be well advised to sell by fragmentation (read the Albright-Knox Art Gallery).

However, it is in the last two paragraphs were Grant finally takes a stand and proclaims that "[r]aising money and doing well by the art aren't mutually exclusive goals," and concluding that museum directors should do what's best for their institution by stating forcefully that "this is what I am going to do, this is what I am doing, and this is what I did."

Deaccessioning Globalized

The Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen writes about the UK's recent battles over deaccessioning. Along with pinpointing two key sides to this issue, he hits on the factor this blog has highlighted as crucial to expansion and understanding of this debate: public property.

Opponents insist that museums and public galleries don’t exist solely to display: they are also centres of scholarly research and repositories charged with the preservation and safe-keeping of anything that is of aesthetic or historical value. On the other hand, most galleries and museums are over-stocked with artifacts of no discernible value.

“Deaccessioning” sounds so enticingly simple at first, but one only has to think about it for two minutes to realise that it represents the thin end of a swiftly thickening wedge. It also raises the question of what ranks as public property.