Museums can use disposal funds for collections maintenance, says AAMD

Museums will be able to apply funds from the sale of donated artworks to the “direct care” of their collections, according to a new policy change announced today by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) . Previously, the AAMD limited the use of these funds to the acquisition of works of art only.

This new update to AAMD’s Professional Practices in Art Museums helps align the association’s policy with that of the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM), which for years has allowed its members to use the proceeds from the sale of alienated objects both to acquire new objects and to care for existing ones in its collections. But while the AAM policy does not define what constitutes legitimate “direct care” expenses, the new AAMD rule does, referring to the costs generated by the storage and preservation of works of art. . As examples, the AAMD cites conservation and restoration efforts and even the purchase of materials such as frames, cardboard and acid-free paper for storage. Are exempted from the “direct support” the salaries of the personnel and the expenses related to the organization of temporary exhibitions.

Some arts professionals welcome the change. “Collections care is a constant need within museums, especially as acquisitions continue to expand the scale and complexity of their collections,” said Laura Raicovich, former President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum, to Hyperallergic. “This change makes it easier to care for existing collections, which is an important aspect of museum stewardship.”

Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, applauded the AAMD for providing clarification on the definition of “direct care,” but raised other questions. “Given the cultural and financial power of the institutions represented on the task force – and via AAMD members in general – the conversations around any ‘philosophical shifts’ in the field could surely be more inclusive,” said Fischman at Hyperallergic. “It might be the perfect time, even, to invite diverse leaders into such a group of ‘important collegiate institutions’.”

Discussions ahead of today’s change began as early as 2019, with formal work on formally changing AAMD policies beginning nine months ago with the formation of an 18-member task force, including Christopher Bedford, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art; and Julián Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and president of the AAMD. Rod Bigelow of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art led the working group.

In April 2020, the AAMD approved a series of resolutions that temporarily removed some restrictions on how museums could spend their funds. In particular, it allowed museums to alienate works and use the proceeds of those sales for operating expenses and for other purposes beyond simply acquiring new works, suspending its sanctions against members. who do not comply.

Disposal rules have long been controversial, with some arguing that museum collections should not be treated as liquid assets to get through tough times. In 2020, the Baltimore Museum of Art halted the auction of three paintings just hours before the sale after weeks of rejection from critics and members of the local art community. The estimated $65 million from the sale was earmarked for staff salaries, equity programs, and new acquisitions of works by various artists.

In a statement, Zugazagoitia acknowledged that AAMD members were seeking “more flexibility” and that AAMD’s policy was “no longer in line” with those of other organizations, such as AAM. “This targeted change responds to changes requested by members, ensures our approach is consistent with standards across the museum field, and provides crucial guidance to members on how to implement a ‘direct care’ standard if their institutions choose to do so,” he said.

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