Will the Rose Close?

Will the Rose Close?

Artists across the globe have downed camelhair brushes, picked up pitchforks and torches, and are marching on Brandeis University to join the crowds of angry students. Behind them is a larger mob of alumni and art fanciers, who’ve traded teacups for tar and feathers. The Brandeis leadership had threatened to close down the Rose Museum of Art and sell off  the collection. Brandeis may be changing its tune as the angry noise of the approaching mobs gets louder.

Did Brandeis think it could play “chicken” with this threat, shocking funding out of a failed economy? University trustees surely know that dumping art at the bottom of the market would violate both fiduciary and  moral obligations. The law faculty surely knows that a sell-off can’t raise emergency funds — donors and heirs would  tie up deaccession plans in the courts for years. As you read this, alumni art patrons are surely writing Brandeis out of their wills.

Worse yet, on purely economic grounds, the numbers do not justify the action.

What was Brandeis thinking?

Outrage grows daily; Tyler Green is valiantly keep up with it on his blog. Recent developments:

A letter of protest from the College Art Association:

CAA supports the Codes of Ethics of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which clearly state that works of art in museum collections are held as a public trust and that any proceeds of sales must only support the acquisition of new works. However, perceiving an entire art collection as a disposable financial asset and then dismantling that collection wholesale to cover other university expenses is deeply troubling for all college and university collections.

A letter of condemnation from the American Association of Museums:

By selling its art collection for cash to the highest bidder to erase a temporary deficit, Brandeis University is in fundamental violation of the public trust responsibilities it accepted the day it founded the Rose Museum. Such a sale is also a betrayal of the donors, who generously gave art for the benefit of the students and the public, not for paying bills. This is a direct violation of the AAM Code of Ethics for museums.

The Boston Globe: Hawk this gem? Unconscionable.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ‘Brainstorm’ weblog: The Sack of Rose

ArtInfo: AAM Urges Brandeis to Seek Steward for Rose Collection

WBUR-FM: Protests And Critics Abound In Reaction To Rose Art Museum’s Closure.

The Waltham News Tribune: ‘A crime against the arts’

The Brandeis Hoot (student newspaper): Save the Rose Art Museum

 Brandeis might be trying to weasel out of contractual obligations to donors by “closing ” the museum and reopening it as an absolutely identical “reseach center.” One theory says this would negate the university’s obligation to sell art only to get the  funds to buy new art (see the AAM and CAA items above). That subterfuge, the theory goes, would allow a big art sell-off to raise unencumbered funds for the school’s general budget.

Private corporations go through such charades all the time, but that won’t work in the nonprofit world, where governments allow organizations special privileges in return for provision of a “Public Good.” The fundamental rules are too different. And, as a practical matter, the last thing Brandeis needs right now is to prove itself even less trustworthy by such a transparent and futile ploy.


Image by Mike Licht (with apologies to Max Weber). Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.


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