Sunday, February 28, 2021

"Totaling $1.5 million, the amount is a far cry from the $65 million the museum anticipated it would raise for its so-called 'Endowment for the Future' through deaccessioning."

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced three gifts to help fund the diversity and equity initiatives it initially had planned to support through deaccessioning but changed course in the face of a storm of criticism.

Brian Boucher's artnet story describing the gifts also includes a fascinating interview with BMA director Christopher Bedford, which includes these highlights:

  • Boucher says that "some are calling on boards to step up yet further. They’re asking, why should museums have to sell art when they have boards to support them?" (Or as one critic put it, "it's on their fat asses.") Bedford's answer: "From an outsider’s perspective, the call for apparently extraordinarily wealthy board members to 'step up' seems logical. But those board members have been, are, and continue to step up—it [still] may not be adequate to keep the museum solvent and meet the mission."
  • Getting to the core of it, Bedford say: "Critics of institutions question, 'Why should we sell art?' My question would be quite simply, 'Why should we not?' . . . Our fundamental role is not to hoard riches, but to interpret those objects in order to provide cultural enrichment. Institutions are being called on to change our DNA, and there is nothing more important to our DNA than our collections. If the majority of institutions in this country are white-centered, which they are, then it stands to reason that the collection itself is emblematic of that bias. Why shouldn’t we be able to, in some measured and controlled fashion, access those resources to drive vision and to properly diversify and compensate staff and properly diversify collections?" (my emphasis). (Though he admits: "I’m probably in a minority at the moment in terms of posing that question.")
  • On why the plan was abandoned: "We [ultimately] decided it would be best to remain aligned with the policies that govern our peer institutions."
  • "When conservative voices say we should never open Pandora’s box, I say, why not?"
  • "[T]he idea of moving slowly and cautiously is, I think, a little tone-deaf to the urgency of the present moment, when activist voices are calling, justly, for museums to recognize what we haven’t been doing and move quickly to remedy that."
  • "Mine is a careful dance of saying, I am very committed to the field and I want to be a part of the group that wants to thoughtfully change the agenda, while also saying there are aspects of the way that museums work historically that I disagree with on a 40,000-foot level. It’s important to stretch the conversation. Even if my position is not the governing position, the harder people push, the more it moves to the center."