Board/Trustee Collecting

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    • #132356
      Kaia Landon

      I am looking for samples of collections management policies or codes of ethics that address board/trustee collecting in areas the museum collects. Anyone willing to share, or who can point me towards good examples?

      While we don’t want to forbid it outright (we would lose some very good board members, and some likely gifts), we want to be sure board members are not competing with us, and also that they are not using their affiliation with the museum to unethically enrich their collections.

    • #132363
      Ron Kley

      Having been a museum trustee, a professional staff member and a collector/accumulator for many years, I feel that the best policy is one that allows board members and/or staff members to pursue individual collecting interests with a strictly enforced provision for full disclosure of what those interests are, and a provision that any acquisitions in areas overlapping those of institutional interest MUST be reported immediately and offered to the institution on an “at cost” basis.

      To forbid any such collecting activity would not only be an infringement of individual legal rights, but it would deprive the institution of the collectors’ discriminating eyes and their ability to take advantage of ad hoc opportunities to acquire items appropriate for the institution’s collections. The institution, however, should be under no obligation to accept items simply because s ataff or board member has purchased something with the institution’s interest in mind.

      It may be appropriate to incorporate a policy provision giving the institution an ongoing “first-refusal” right if an item originally offered to and declined by the institution should subsequently be offered for sale by the collector

      There is a need for safeguards in any such policy, but the best safeguard is one of total transparency, full disclosure and strict enforcement.

      Ron Kley


    • #132362

      We had a recent situation where we located a cased image that had been stolen from our museum many years ago.  It had been purchased by a collector who sits on the board of a museum in another city with a similar theme and mission as ours.  He had to return the photograph to us.  There is also a house museum here that has had incidents of family objects associated with the house coming up for auction, and board members who are also collectors have outbid the house on purchasing these objects!

      I think board members who are collectors is not such a great idea.

    • #132361

      Would be ethical to have the collector loan items from his/her collection to the museum he/she is affiliated with, or would that be considered a conflict of interest?


    • #132360
      Ron Kley

      If  the collector stands to gain by loaning items to the museum (e.g., by making the items better known and p0tentially more valuable among collectors, and by enabling them to be subsequently sold at a higher price because they have a bit of institutional cachet attached as a result of their museumm exhibition, then there is a conflict. If the items loaned were “generic” objects of little or no market value, the situation would be signifi9cantly different. Remember, the fact than an individual and an institution may have interests in the same object constitutes a convergence and a commonality of interests…not necessarily a conflict.

      In the example given, the collector is described as being “affiliated” with the museum. The nature of the affiliation also needs to be considered. If the individual had been a board member or trustee, he/she would have had a legal “fiduciary” responsibility to act in the institution’s best interest and to scrupulously avoid conflicts of interest. If the collector was “affiliated” as a staff member, a volunteer, a contractor or concessionaire, the avoidance of conflict would be a matter of personal ethics rather than one of legal obligation.

      Ron Kley

    • #132359
      Ron Kley

      For a board member/trusee to knowingly bid for a collection item against his/her institutiuon is a blatant conflict of interest and a violation of legally mandated fidicuary responsibility. “Knowingly” may be the key word here. It’s possible to be bidding in an online auction, or by phone at a live auction, without having any idea of who the other bidders are or what (if any) organization/institution they may represent. Did the museum in question advise its board/trustees that it would be bidding on specific auction items? If not, it’s entirely possible that there was no “knowing” conflict of interest.

      With an appropriate personal collecting policy in place, the board member /trustee would have been required to promptly offer the “won” item to the museum on an at-cost basis.

      Ron Kley

    • #132358

      The Met’s staff collecting policy is online as part of their collections management policy (, and is an excellent place to start. Here is the MoMA’s as well:

    • #132357
      Michael Nagy

      Back in the “good old days” of collecting via the online auction service that rhymes with “reemay” a bidder used to know who they were bidding against.  I kept a list of board members, other donors, and unaffiliated collectors.  I would contact them and come to agreements about not bidding against one another.  “reeMay” lost money on these agreements, deemed them unethical, and blinded the process.  Museums have lost much money on this policy change over the years and it has unwittingly placed affiliated collectors in conflict with institutions.

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