A questions about procedure and ethics…. Museum A was given a significant donation of artwork years ago. They have since changed their collection direction. They don’t intend to exhibit these items. The donors would like to have the items transfered to Museum B, whose collection and exhibition missions more closely reflect the artwork. Comments?
A follow-up question: Is Museum A amenable to the transfer of the artwork to Museum B, i.e. are all of the parties involved in agreement about what should happen to the artwork?
That hasn’t been decided. It would mean a significant loss of assets for Museum A, if only on paper.
I’ve asked a museum ethics expert for advice on this question and will report back. In the meantime, here are a few resources on the topic:
Ethical Issues in Collections Management webinar from C2CC. There are also links to relevant handouts on the page.
Direct Care of Collections: Ethics, Guidelines, and Recommendations from the American Alliance of Museums.
Sally Yerkovich, Director of the Institute of Museum Ethics (and the author/presenter of the resources in my previous post), writes:
“The basic situation — transferring objects from one museum that does not intend to use them to another institution that may be able to display the objects — is perfectly ethical. One can assume that after the transfer, the objects will be in an institution (Museum B) that will use them for the benefit of the public through research, exhibitions and programs. And also that Museum A will benefit in that it will no longer have to care for objects that it will not use.
What is more unusual about the situation is that the donor is making the suggestion! The objects belong to Museum A now, assuming they were donated to Museum A without restrictions, so it would usually be Museum A who would take the initiative to suggest the transfer of the objects to Museum B. There’s nothing untoward about this but it just strikes me as unusual.
Finally, when the objects were donated to Museum A, they became cultural/educational assets. All things being equal, their monetary value should not be a consideration in this situation. I believe that the Direct Care white paper and my C2CC webinar deal with this.
I hope this is helpful. It’s always hard to respond to situations like this because there are so many unknowns and those unknowns usually complicate everything!”
The ultimate decision lies with Museum A
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