Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Rose is a Rose is...you know

Roberta Smith, writing about Brandeis University's decision to close the Rose Art Museum in the New York Times Sunday:
What better way to avoid the messy legalities of deaccessioning artworks, with the attendant denunciations from Association of Art Museum Directors and other professional organizations that monitor and weigh in on sales of individual works of art? (The association’s guidelines say that art works can be sold only to finance acquisitions.) If there is no museum, there are no guidelines to violate.
The university's board of trustees have decided that the Rose is a savings account, and they need to close it out. For the money. And this decision has been reached in spite of the fact that the museum operates almost entirely outside the finances of the rest of the university. It has (had) its own donors, its own budget, its own endowment.

In something of a demonstration of just how independent the Rose is from Brandeis, museum director Michael Rush has posted a statement condemning the closing on the museum's (Brandeis-sponsored) Web site:
Do not be fooled into thinking that the Rose is being closed because it is a financial drain on the university. It isn’t. While acknowledging the profound financial challenges every institution is facing, the Rose, a fundamentally self sustaining entity within Brandeis, is in relatively good financial health. The Rose is being closed due to the University’s desire to sell the cherished collection. Period.
What Brandeis is up to amounts to a sucker punch to the museum's many donors. According to Smith, 80% of the collection was donated to the museum. People decided, for whatever reason, to give their artworks to the Rose. They could have donated to any one of hundreds of other public collections and received the same tax benefits and warm fuzzy feelings, but they gave to the Rose.

Now their gifts have been effectively nullified. They didn't give art to a museum they respected and wanted to support. The gave fungible assets to a university's board of directors.

Anybody considering a donation to Brandeis in the future will have much to ponder.

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