Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Some in the New York State Legislature thought they knew more about running museums and other cultural institutions ..."

". . . than the managements and boards of those institutions."

An excellent post by the Charity Governance Blog's Jack Siegel on the death of the Brodsky Bill. The whole thing is worth reading, but some highlights:
  • "While we assume most museums would prefer not to sell parts of their collections, that option should not be taken off the table through legislative fiat. Most organizations are not as well endowed as the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, or the Art Institute of Chicago. If selling an object is necessary to keep the doors open, so be it."
  • "The need for the proposed legislation rests on the faulty distinction between program and overhead expenses. ... The bill assumes that amounts spent on acquiring physical objects to be added to the collection are mission expenses and everything else is needless overhead. That is why the bill precludes expenditures of proceeds from the sale of objects from the collection for operating expenditures. By ignoring operations, the bill ignores the 'operating expenses' associated with curators, security, catalog preparation, and environmental controls."
  • "The proposed legislation places a premium on hoarding objects rather than how those objects are utilized. What exactly is wrong with a museum that has developed a first rate collection in Aboriginal artwork from selling two French Impressionistic paintings to raise funds to improve its educational programs regarding Aboriginal art? Seems to us that any limit on such sales defeats this museum’s mission. Our friends in the New York legislature might permit the sale if the funds are used to buy more Aboriginal artworks, but why is having more objects necessarily better than having an extra curator or educators who can provide the public with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Aboriginal collection?" (my emphasis).

Meanwhile, Judith Dobrzynski is also glad the bill is dead, but warns that the battle, "which is really about the control of museum governance, is not over yet."