I arrived in San Diego last week for the semi-annual meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) at the same moment that Brandeis University announced that it was closing its Rose Art Museum and selling the collection to help secure the university’s finances. Barely contained hysteria among the 120 directors there assembled was occasionally expressed in outrage and ultimately overtures to help the university administration reckon with the seriousness of its actions.
Why so serious? A museum’s art collections are the center of an art museum’s purpose. Each object, selected with great care, holds within it the values and ideas relevant to the culture that created it. In the aggregate they represent the vicissitudes of civilization over recorded time. The responsibility of the art museum is to care for these objects in their trust, to engage publics in considering the art, and to pass them along to succeeding generations.
As art established its own economy in recent decades, many works achieved sensational monetary value. Collectors have in many cases converted their art to liquid capital. That is not an option for art museums who are protectors of a public trust. Museum ethics require that funds secured from the sale of a work of art must be reinvested in the enhancement of the art collection, not its operating capital. This principle is central to our values at the NCMA.
It is your collection and always will be.
Dr. Larry Wheeler, Museum Director, will be posting periodically from the Director’s suite.