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I agree with Jenny that a big reason is cost – the cost of curation (especially of artwork) is very high, and having a selective acquisition policy is a great way for your accessions committee to keep those costs in check. We adopt a selective acquisition policy, which doesn’t mean we can’t accept everything if we wanted to, but it gives us justification for declining (to the owner, to the board, to the public) donations when necessary. I have pasted an excerpt from our archaeology collections policy below.
The State Historical Board subscribes to a policy of selective acquisition. Some artifacts, even if appropriate to the purposes of the Archaeology and Historic Preservation Division, may not be desirable acquisitions because of the Archaeology and Historic Preservation Division’s inability to adequately preserve the object, lack of sufficient documentation associated with the artifacts, and cost and space considerations.
Exceptions to this provision may be made if the potential acquisition represents an individual, site and/or activity of exceptional importance associated with the prehistory or history of North Dakota.
Maybe your board would be happy if you included the “exceptions” provision, so that the Board could approve something that falls outside of your scope of collections if they felt it necessary?
Because of the expense, acquisition decisions need to be purposeful and guided by the museum’s identity and mission. I am in complete agreement with you that without that guidance, you will end up with a mishmash of collections that lack coherence and meaning.