John E. Klein
Office of the President
2500 Rivermont Avenue
Lynchburg, VA 24503-1526
Dear Mr. Klein,
On behalf of AAMD’s Board of Trustees, I am writing to thank you and Peter Dean for taking the time to come to our meeting last fall to explain the background and current situation regarding the sale of art at Randolph College and for the time that you and members of the Board of Randolph and others spent with our Trustee, Alex Nyerges, and former trustee William Eiland, on their recent visit to the college.
AAMD's long-standing policy restricting the use of funds obtained through deaccessioning to the acquisition of new works is a wise and time-tested principle. At its heart, the policy reflects the fact that collections of works of art - whether at free-standing museums or on college and university campuses -are not fungible assets. This policy prevents institutions from selling works of art to support operations, a temptation that is real but that does not address the underlying causes of financial distress.
Supporting operations through the sale of works of art fundamentally undermines the core role of the arts in education and the integrity of an educational institution. Preserving public trust is critical to all nonprofit institutions. Treating art as a fungible asset and using collections to pay for operating expenses will also significantly undermine future fundraising for operations. If a museum or university can meet its short term operating needs by selling art, why would a donor bother giving money when there are so many other nonprofits facing severe financial challenges? Selling art to support operations is not viable as a long-term financial strategy; it is the equivalent of spending down endowment principal.
We are sympathetic to the financial challenges Randolph College confronts, but once a college or university creates a museum, it must manage the museum according to the standards of the museum field. For this reason, the AAMD believes that colleges and universities that create art museums must operate those museums to the same standards as any other art museum. While AAMD understands that there are some practices that may be different for campus museums, our Professional Practices address this limited range of issues within the broader context of standards for the field as a whole, AAMD members and non-members alike.
After careful consideration, we believe Randolph has created and operated a college art museum. The Maier Museum of Art is billed as an art museum on the Randolph College website, in the College’s press materials, and in the College’s Form 990: “the College has an extensive collection which is maintained in a museum under curatorial care and is used for instruction, public exhibition, scholarly research, preservation for future generations, and loan and exchange programs.” This is not an instance of the AAMD determining that Randolph is operating a museum, but rather the college publicly announcing that it does so – and taking advantage of the benefits that accrue to the institution by having an “art museum” on its campus. To then simultaneously argue that the college does not have or operate an art museum as regards management of the collection is neither logical nor tenable. Based on these points, the AAMD confirms its censure of the previous sale of a work, the announced intention to use the proceeds (or at least the income therefrom) for operations and the announced intention to continue such practices. Finally, we believe that everyone—the public, the museum field, the college and its students, faculty and alumna—would benefit from Randolph clarifying the status of its museum. If, in fact, Randolph’s position is that the college is not operating an art museum, then it should not advertise to the contrary. The AAMD, as it has with other institutions facing some of the challenges you have identified, is very willing to discuss with the leadership of Randolph alternatives to the course of action currently being pursued.
President, Association of Art Museum Directors
Director and President, Peabody Essex Museum