Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Benezra on Fractional Gifts and Deaccessioning (UPDATED)

Richard Lacayo has posted an excellent two-part interview with SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, which includes the following:

LACAYO: Everybody complains about the change in the federal tax laws governing fractional gifts. [This is an arrangement whereby collectors give a museum a partial ownership interest in a work, with the right to dislay the work for a part of each year, while the collector takes a partial tax break.] Has that had a big impact on you?

BENEZRA: We have more fractional gifts than any museum in the country, something like 800. That change has had an unbelievably negative impact on our acquisition program, a profoundly negative impact. The difference in the number of gifts from one year to the next has dropped off by 80% or something.

He also calls deaccessioning "the third rail of American museums": "You have to be very careful how you do things. But I've seen how it can be done well."

UPDATE: I didn't realize the interview wasn't finished. There's a part three up today, every bit as interesting as the first two, and which includes the following:

LACAYO: What one thing would make your job easier?

BENEZRA: I wish the government would reassess this fractional gift thing. This was something that was not broken and didn't need to be fixed. There was not abuse. Certainly not here there wasn't.

And something has to be done about insurance. We're in earthquake territory. We're in a 10-year-old building that's as rock solid as could be. But because of our geography, we're having a terrible time with insurance. ... There's a federal indemnification program for international loans. What we're lobbying very hard for now is that the indemnification program should work for domestic loans as well.