Delaware Museum Warned of ‘Serious Violation’ in Selling Artworks

The Delaware Art Museum. Lighting installation by James Turrell.

Late last month the Delaware Art Museum announced it had decided to sell works from its collection to raise funds to reduce debt and support operations. In response Timothy Rub, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director and CEO  of the Philadelphia Museum of Art penned a letter to Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, Delaware governor Jack Markell and Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams yesterday. Rub laid out the reasons why such a decision runs afoul of museum and nonprofit guidelines and warned the museum about the potential negative consequences of such a sale.

As Rub points out, “treating works that are held in the public trust as financial assets represents a serious violation of the AAMD’s Code of Ethics” and professional standards. According to AAMD guidelines, deaccessioning works is acceptable only when the proceeds are directed toward the acquisition of other works for the collection. The letter notes that the museum was, until recently, an AAMD member. The museum resigned its membership in the AAMD on March 15 but did not give a reason for doing so. On the same day, interim director Mike Miller also resigned without giving a reason for doing so.

Despite its current lack of standing in the organization, the museum could still face consequences if it carries through with its planned sale, such as censure or sanctions. Rub stressed that the AAMD was willing to work with the museum to help it find a resolution that “would not involve deaccessioning works of art.” He also outlined the potential long-term backlash including discouraging potential supporters and donors as well as having a negative effect on fundraising over time. Further, Rub said the association is “deeply concerned that the Delaware Art Museum has refused to disclose publicly the works of art it is considering selling.”

A spokeswoman at the museum told artnet News the institution had no comment on Rub’s letter.

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