Arts Funding Cuts at Universities

Patricia Cohen has an article for the New York Times on the current funding cuts plaguing Universities across the US.  It speaks to the general trend plaguing arts funding in America, but indicates as well I think a potential tide of deaccessions across the country:

If you are looking for a sign of how strapped the University of California, Los Angeles, is for cash, consider that its arts and architecture school may resort to holding a bake sale to raise money. California’s severe financial crisis has left its higher-education system — which serves nearly a fifth of the nation’s college students — in particularly bad straits. But tens of thousands of students at public and private colleges and universities around the country will find arts programs, courses and teachers missing — victims of piercing budget cuts — when they descend on campuses this month and next.

At Washington State University the department of theater arts and dance has been eliminated. At Florida State University the undergraduate program in art education and two graduate theater programs are being phased out. The University of Arizona is cutting three-quarters of its funds, more than $500,000, for visiting classical music, dance and theater performers. Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, which supports four departments — dance, music, theater and visual arts — is losing 14 percent of its $1.2 million budget over the next two years. The Louisiana State University Museum of Art, one of the largest university-affiliated collections in the South, saw 20 percent of its state financing disappear. Other private and state institutions warn of larger classes, trimmed offerings, higher tuition and fewer services, faculty and visitors.

 Given this, I think we need to seriously ask whether the current set of rules for deaccessioning works of art are really ensuring the continued viability of the arts.  Why can’t a University decide to sell all or part of its art collection?  So long as it remains on display or available to researchers in the public trust, who is harmed?

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One thought on “Arts Funding Cuts at Universities”

  1. (Quick question: in your last sentence, is “it” referring to the collection, or the items that are sold? How would a collection remain on display and available to researchers in the public trust if it is all sold?)

    I’ve worked in a variety of art museums for several years, and even without the current economic difficulties, I would be an advocate of deaccessioning.

    My understanding is that currently, deaccessioning is “allowed” if the following criteria apply:
    1. the items being considered are unfit for continued housing because: the museum has acquired better examples and thus they would never go on view, conservation costs are prohibitive, they were determined to be fakes or stolen (this, however, would also preclude making any real money from the sale, as the museum would not be able to sell them under false premises), or if they have no research value (if the institution does not have a study collection).
    2. The funds from the sale go back into an accessions fund and any item(s) purchased with these funds maintain the credit line of the donor of the original (now deaccessioned) item.

    When museums are encouraged to continuously collect and only sparsely deaccesion, the result is that storage is overcrowded, there is not enough funding to properly conserve the bulk of the collection, and many items rarely (if ever) go on view.

    Instead of encouraging museums not to deaccession, the AAMD should encourage museums to only VERY selectively accession. Accessions put a burden on staff and finances, as very rarely are accessions coupled with any kind of funds to care for the accessions. I don’t buy the argument from Development circles that donors want to donate $ for art and not for running the lights. I think a very strong argument could be made to donors to donate for programming and exhibitions to bring people into the museum, rather than bring art into dark storage rooms where they will rarely be seen.

    So, why not more actively deaccession for the purpose of exposing art to more people by paying for salaries and running the lights? Maybe such a move would flood the market enough to drive prices down from their ridiculous level. Right now, the one-way flow of art into the museum world, and away from the market, can only be driving prices up and up.

    A legal question: if an item is deaccessioned, does this not violate tax laws, as the item was donated under the premise it would be used to support the mission of the museum. Would this requirement still be fulfilled if the item were sold and the funds used to pay salaries?

    Big fan of your blog!


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