Monday, May 04, 2009

On the Rose Report

I've now had a chance to read the interim report of the Future of the Rose Committee, and I'm not sure it's right to describe it, as the Boston Globe did, as "a vote of confidence for the beleaguered administration."

It is true that it begins by echoing the point I've made here on several occasions that "the Administration has changed its thinking in substantial ways":

"Brandeis is not closing the Rose and selling all the art work, though we must say in the same breath: it remains a possibility that some will be sold. Brandeis is not going out of the museum business, although here too we must acknowledge that we've heard from some who hold the view that we ought to, or might as well, go out of the museum business if we plan to sell any art work. ... As we see it, the University had stepped back from the precipice."

But it then goes on to stake out a very clear "position of neutrality" on the question whether any art should be sold. The Committee "takes it as a 'fact on the ground' that the Board of Trustees has authorized the Administration to sell art work if the budget crisis requires it." The Committee "has remained neutral" with respect to that decision: "Our job is to help figure out how best to go on, given that such sales might occur."

Why take this approach, rather than "evaluate the Board's decision with an eye to endorsing it or recommending that it be reversed"? Because "this sort of evaluation is outside of our expertise." The decision "has to do with the overall, long-term, financial well-being of the University, and we believe that our Committee's experience and expertise is better focused on issues regarding art and education rather than making recommendations about the University's best financial course."

Thus the specific charge of the Committee is to "recommend ways for the Rose to continue to play a vital role in the cultural and educational mission of the University."

There's also an interesting little section on "legal information":

"[T]here has been a good deal of unfounded speculation and misinformation in the community about possible legal constraints on the Rose, the legality of the sale of art, and the impact of such sales on the Rose's status as a museum. Early in the process we sought clarity on these issues, and we received answers to the following questions from Judith Sizer, university legal counsel:

"Q1. Can Brandeis legally operate a public museum if we sell art work and do not use the proceeds to purchase other art work?
"A. Yes.

"Q2. Are there any restrictions with respect to the name of the building and the spaces? Are we obligated to keep the names 'Rose Art Museum', 'Mildred Lee Gallery', and 'Lois Foster Wing' according to the donor agreements?
"A. Yes, in all three contexts.

"Q3. Are there other specifications in the donor agreements detailing how the space must be used?
"A. The donor agreements do not contain explicit instructions concerning the use of particular spaces within the building."

It's interesting to hear that, no matter how it's "repurposed," it still has to be called the "Rose Art Museum."

The report notes that, while "selling art to purchase other art is part of the normal life of a museum," selling art "to provide budget relief for the sake of the broader University violates professional standards of the museum world," which "would have serious consequences for the professional life and standing of the museum and its staff." As a result, among the things the Committee is considering are "(i) what sorts of policies and tactical steps could strengthen the Rose to deal with this special vulnerability, and (ii) how to plan for and mitigate the damage to the Rose and its collection if and when such sales do occur."

Finally, the Committee re-states its belief "that the University must do all it can to insure that the Rose remains a vibrant and distinguished part of the University, and it must in the coming period reaffirm in very concrete ways its commitment to the Arts. To that end, we are considering how the mission of the museum can be enhanced and maximized."

Time magazine's Richard Lacayo offers some thoughts on the report here.

The LA Times's Christopher Knight says "yes, legally it is quite possible to sell museum art and pay the university's bills with the income. Ethically, however, it's repulsive." Not just wrong, or misguided, mind you, but repulsive. He doesn't say why it's repulsive, he just asserts it, but such is the nature of routine blogging, I guess. Nor does he attempt to answer Floyd Norris's question:

"What do people opposed to the sale of paintings think suddenly poor institutions should do? Close? Seek government bailouts? Should Brandeis close down a few academic departments, or cut back on scholarships, to keep its art?"