Thursday, February 10, 2011

"If we have an asset valued at $100 million to $150 million . . ."

". . . are we not better served to have those resources deployed to actually educate Iowa students in the arts?"

The idea of selling the University of Iowa's Pollock has come up again in the state legislature. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has introduced a bill calling for the sale, with the sales proceeds going "into an endowment that could provide $5 million a year for scholarships for resident students at the UI majoring in art." Any sale would have to provide that the work "must be on the UI campus for at least three months every four years ..., so students could still use it for educational purposes."

This issue has been raised before, and nothing ever came of it. I suspect the same will be true this time, but, to me, one interesting aspect of the story is the involvement of the state legislature. That is, we're often told that the reason museums can't sell works is that they are held "in trust" for "the public." Presumably, the public in this case is the people of the State of Iowa. But what if that public's elected representatives vote (imagine, to make the case even stronger, unanimously) to sell the work? Or, imagine the matter is put to a direct vote by referendum, and "the public" votes overwhelmingly in favor of the sale? What then? Would it still be wrong to sell? I suppose the argument might be that the museum is protecting the interests of future generations of Iowans, who would be deprived of the opportunity to see the work (except for at least three months out of every four years), but what reason do we have to think future generations wouldn't have similar views to the current generation that just voted overwhelmingly to sell?

In any event, brace yourselves for the howls of outrageous outrage from the chorus of the perpetually outraged.