Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CAN COLLECTORS PROTECT THEIR GIFTS?

Brandeis University trustees voted unanimously last week to close the Rose Art Museum on campus and sell all of its contents. There had been no advance discussion with faculty, students, the museum's own board, or its director. The college said it needed money, and the museum's collection, all donated, of 7,180 works of art (many from the 1960s-70s) is said to be worth $350 million. Why didn't the trustees sell just a few paintings to cover its $10 million shortfall? The American Association of Museums prohibits accredited museums like Rose from de-accessioning any art except to purchase new art. Brandeis avoids the prohibition by closing the museum, but perhaps the university could have worked out an agreement with the association.

We wonder at the ethics and wisdom of the Brandeis decision to close the museum. The sale sparked a sit-in by students, and it will also anger art donors and discourage gifts. Besides, does the university even have the legal right to sell the art? Will Brandeis first offer the art back to the donors? Did the board balance the budget at the expense of a very bad PR move that will haunt them for years? Museums need to know how the public and future donors feel about the Brandeis move. This is important to all of us, because our collections of objects from everyday life could also be destroyed--and future generations might never see a tinsmith's tools or a wooden washing machine or even an 18th-century house. Let everyone know how you feel by posting on our blog.

105 comments:

Jeff the Wine Guy said...

They are going for the low-hanging fruit by selling the art instead of doing the hard work of balancing the budget. They should be given 50 lashes and released from their positions. For shame!

DanThoms said...

That's terrible that someone would donate something to a museum in good faith only to have it sold to a private collector. If they wanted it in a private collection they would have just kept it or sold it in the first place.

Cathie said...

I think that is TERRIBLE! If the people who gave those things to Brandeis wanted to sell them they would have. Instead, they wanted to place them where THEY THOUGHT more than one or two people with "means" could enjoy them. Schooling isn't just book learning, it is learning from the past including museums where everyone, not just the rich can go. Do you think the majority of Brandeis students could afford to buy these artifacts, or that some single collector is going to invite the public to stop buy and see his/her collection anytime?. The people who donated those items put their trust in Brandeis to take care of them and YOU Brandeis betrayed that trust.

Jeanie said...

Shame on you Brandeis..!! Jeanie
Blairsville, GA

Anonymous said...

Not knowing the rules/law of gifts to institutions, it seems to me that if a donation is not used for it's intended purpose, when it is donated, it should be disclosed that the donation is non-returnable to the donor. When donating an item, is there a cavat that when the institution disposes of the donation, the donor has option of first refusal to be given the item back if the museum decides to sell it? Take for example, the beautiful stained glass windows in older churches that are vacant/on the market and no longer used as churches. Families donated those stained glass windows for religious reasons but when the church building is sold and turned into a bar/cafe/retail,etc., many families would prefer to have those works of art returned to the family since the intended use/donation no longer exists. It's sad that the families memorial will end up on eBay once the new owner strips the church and sells the donated stained glass for pure profit. Our aunt donated her house to the local college and was proud to think that it would be the college president's home/or visiting dignitaries quarters. She specifically stipulated its' use in her will. However, a year after she died, the college sold her cherished home. Had she known, she probably would have sold it to a family member to keep her legacy alive rather than donating to the college.

lynn s said...

Bad idea, Brandeis; you've just burned your proverbial bridges with future donors...not just art donors, either! How dare they use a loophole like that to fill their coffers? I think all of the art should be given back to the donors or their heirs...idiots!

Steven Fischer said...

Brandies must have a board member who vould have made this a loan against the artwork value thereby protecting the collection and the reputation of the school. There are many families whose donations were the efforts of highly placed and powerful people. It shows how shortsighted and lazy these board members are that it does not occur to them how much this will effect their bottom line as the lawsuits come in from prominent families whose sole purpose was to provide for the future. I wouldnt want to be the one working out the numbers of how much this will cost the University in legal costs, decreased admissions, advertisements, public relations and of course the undefinable costs of the goodwill of the people who will speak of this for the next two decades.

Art Supporter said...

Dear Terry, This concerned me so much, I e-mailed the university even though I have no connection to Brandeis. Here are a few e-mail addresses I used: 'gould@brandeis.edu'; 'hose@brandeis.edu'; 'yates@brandeis.edu'; 'Reinharz@brandeis.edu'
in case other readers feel compelled to write to the university. Thanks for your concern and information.

Anonymous said...

This will totally discourage anyone thinking about donating to a local museum. It could also bring out dishonesty in the individuals over the sales of valuable items in keeping those items for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Brandeis University trustees' "unilateral" decision to close the Rose Art Museum on campus and sell all of its contents is appalling! The decision is a public slap in the face to all of the museum's donors and to those members of the museum board and others who rely on the museum for its cultural and educational merits. This just goes to show that there is a great deal of difference between nearsightedness and shortsightedness!!

R. Ball
Colorado

Anonymous said...

Exactly what protection is offered to donors when they give something to either a museum or an organization??? If the Nature Conservancy can sell land donated in order to generate cash to protect wetlands elsewhere, or a museum can sell the donated art to generate cash to operate their university, what protection IS offered to a donor or his/her heirs? Can we build into the donation agreement some type of tag that would require the item to be returned to the heirs or the donor if the museum closes or the organization no longer wishes to use the donation for the purpose for which it was donated?? Brandeis has definitely "stepped on its petticoat"...I wouldn't expect many more donations!

Anonymous said...

Bradeis University should be doubly shamed, not only have they betrayed the trust of those who bestowed the gifts, but they also are betraying the students and community by closing the museum. I have to drive over 2 hours to visit an art museum, students at the University could be exposed to fine art on their campus. For an institution of higher learning to ignore the value such an opportunity presents indicates just how far "higher learning" has fallen.

Anonymous said...

I heard about this last week on NPR and I feel that's the chance you take when donating items. We've donated cash to the private college where our sons go and that's that.

Grateful11

Anonymous said...

It is a crime what the mueseum is doing. These items where donated by the people for the people, and the mueseum is selling items ment for the public not the mueseum poorspending habits, to get bailed out.

Susan Jane said...

Here is a further article:
"Inside Higher Ed" at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/01/27/brandeis

There is a web petition--please sign!
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/3/in-opposition-to-the-closing-of-the-rose-art-museum
I belong to a professional art librarians group and this has been circulated to us.
Thanks
SJ Williams

Anonymous said...

The rules of the American Association of Museums are the only prohibition to selling works of art that are not to be replaced? Then stop being members of the Association. The students, public and visitors would surely not care if the Rose Museum was not a member of the AAM, if it meant that it could remain open and respect most donors wishes. I'm sure some donors or their heirs, knowing the Rose Museum's financial straits, would consent to the sale of their work(s) of art to save the institution. Going behind everyone's back as a fait accompli, indicates to me they anticipated outrage, and wanted the money more - probably for something unrelated.

Anonymous said...

This is very unethical. Everything should first try to be returned to the person who donated it.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. When a place of higher education starts acting like Wall Street we should be disgusted and afraid. If what you alledge is true then shame on Brandeis trustees.
Bad news travels fast. If Brandeis goes through with this, I imagine a dramatic drop in contributions, donations, support will follow. When enrollment drops maybe they will get it. Then they will have real money problems.

Andrew Turner said...

Our company - Manion's International Auction House (www.manions.com)- deals mainly with military collectibles. We've heard some horror stories on our end about family members donating a loved one's military service items to a museum only to have it sold.

People don't realize that after they donate something to a museum, unless they have some sort of contract in advance, it does not belong to them anymore.

I encourage potential donors to place these items in the collecting community: the donor will receive additional income, the items will most certainly go to someone who appreciates them, and they will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. I shudder to think about the amount of items sitting in the bowels of the Smithsonian, never again to see the light of day.

If you sell an item with a traditional auction, or Internet service like Manion's, you will receive the highest sale price possible without compromising the "value" of your items. If a museum is really interested in a particular piece - let them bid it out with everyone else!

J. said...

My family donated books to a university library. The donor contract had a provision that if the university ever deaccessioned any of the books they would revert to the family.

EtOHRx said...

Brandeis University trustees remind me of an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. In this episode one of the topics is the "regifter," a person receives a gift who then in-turn gives the same gift to another person. The context is that the person does not like nor appreciate the gift. My friends, do not gift Brandeis University lest your trust be regifted-as they only want cash . Shame on you Brandeis University trustees, shame on you.
COAL, coal, coal...

-St. Nick

jimjan297 said...

My donating days are now over. I wonder if the college will let the family that donated the art attend tuition free.

Jim Anderson said...

My donating days are now over. I wonder if the college will let the donating family attend tuition free.

Anonymous said...

I would think that if I had donated a piece of art to a museum it would most likely be because I wanted to share with others, not as a commodity to be sold at any time, and thus the museum should not sell the piece. However, if the museum had actually purchased the art then they should be able to sell it for what ever reason they desire: whether to support the museum/college or to buy new art. In this case, I feel the trustees likely acted in good faith but they forgot that a university is for education and education does not just include basics, but also the "niceties" that make us human. A group of interested parties should have been consulted before a decision was made.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the terms of the gift. Often a gift is bestowed on a particular museum in order to keep it preserved and intact. It was intended for that particular museum after careful research. To sell the art or collection under these circumstances would be a betrayal to the donor.

Anonymous said...

Outrageous! I'm glad I read this article. I will think twice before considering a donation to a University or Art Museum. The Brandeis University trustee's need to explore other options and perhaps get a piece of the National Bailout like the rest of the folks with their hands out!

ConnieB said...

I have thought about giving some inherited historical articles to the WWII museum so they could be shared with everyone. Now I wonder if that is such a wise idea.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the terms of the gift. Often a gift is bestowed on a particular museum in order to keep it preserved and intact. It was intended for that particular museum after careful research. To sell the art or collection under these circumstances would be a betrayal to the donor.

Carolyn Shinn said...

This deal by Brandeis University is a disgrace! Leave it to greedy, unprincipled people to find a way around a prohibition. It gives rise to the question as to where the "extra" money over the shortfall will go. Also whether the University is really interested in public edification and its donors' welfare.

Anonymous said...

This seems wrong in every way possible. Whoever made this decision in a vacuum did not put the right thought into this.
These trustees need to be called out on this rash decision.e

Anonymous said...

Seems like a bad move on the part of the board. I think the following should have been done
1. approach those who donated the art about the option of perhaps selling what they donated to raise money
2. put the word out to all at the university, brainstorm solutions
3. raise money to cover the shortfall after discussion with #1 & #2 above about how to do that
4. should not be allowed to close the museum without public discussion and problem solving

dzinrgirl said...

Unbelievable! Shame on Brandeis for treating the Rose as nothing more than a disposable asset. Sure, times are tough and hard decisions are being made every day - but - if we think the housing market has tanked... how's the art market doing?!! Duh.

Anonymous said...

It is outrageous to think that donated pieces of art (or anything for that matter) to a museum could be sold without any consultation to the donor, who donated that item in good faith that it be displayed for the good of all who might see it.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked by the actions of Brandeis University's trustees who decided to close the Rose Art Museum in order to sell the collection worth about $130 million. Shame on them. The collection will be scattered and the donors or their descendants must be dismayed when they donated their artwork in trust to the museum. To say nothing of the time and effort spent by staff and volunteers who worked there.

Susan Mills said...

I was shocked to read that Brandis is closing their entire museum. What a tragedy for the university and the public.

saintNICHOLAStoo said...

How sad! The reality of this ecomonic climate takes it toll.There has to be a better plan than to close the museum.Is this going to become the norm for colleges and universities with financial woes? What is next? Will states and municipalities do the same? Museums offer a glimpse into the past,insight into the minds and hearts of artists,and a visual testimony to all that has gone before,all that is,and all that will be.Can we afford the loss?

Anonymous said...

All universities are suffering financially (I know - I work for one), but dumping an entire collection on the art market can only depress prices for everyone and everything, and make their own collection far less valuable. Short-term thinking and a "me-first" attitude in the financial sector got us into this mess in the first place - Brandeis should re-think this decision.

Anonymous said...

These people (the trustees)are supposed to be the best of the best and if this goes thtough, why would anyone ever want to donate any valauble items to a universy( other than a tax write-off)? The object, in my view, was for the masses to be able to see and appreciate the works of art and not forever be hidden on a wall in some mansion only to be see by a few. I hope that most were donated with the stipulation that they would never be sold and would be held in trust with the institution. Talk about a bunch on boneheads. I would hope the alumni get together and reverse this action.

Deadguy said...

Should I be a doner and not be offered my Art work back I would sue them.
Art and Historic materials are donated to museums to be used in educating and exposeing that work to the public and achedemics.
This is a offense to take the art and materials to sell for profit.
This undermines the whole purpose of makeing a donation.
What are the ramifications to doners with the IRS, would ultimate sale of materials be considered the value, and be used aganist a taxpayer for adjusting prior charitable donations. Should a item sell for thousands less than the tax deduction who pays ?
I am reconsidering all my museum donations in light of this.

Lisa Siegrist said...

I think Brandeis made a grave error in closing the museum and set a very bad precedent. It's a matter of responsible stewardship of the artwork that was entrusted to it. Donors expect their gifts to be protected into perpetuity. AAM should consider setting new guidelines to prohibit this sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

As a collector, I would only LOAN to a museum, because my family could still be in control. And I definitely would not consider donating to Brandeis,ever.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that is definitely wrong.
It also makes me think twice about whom I may donate to, in the future.
That also would make me think twice about what schools I choose to send my children to. The school's decisions reflect upon what the school values & teaches their students. The choices of Brandeis reflect what is of value to them & their educational philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I think it is so wrong, when a museum can just close it's doors and sell all of its donations! The donord should of at least been notified; then, if they chose to, could have possibly moved their donations to another, more responsible establishment. I'm sure the donations were given so that a little part of history could live on. Its a shame...

Anonymous said...

Also, Art is a vital part of curriculum! Can you imagine how uneducated our students would be if there were no collections for them to appreciate?

Anonymous said...

With their decision to sell donated art in order to cover a budget deficit, Brandeis has caused a shift in the earth as we know it. On so many levels, this is a deplorable decision. It will affect donations to all museums throughout the US. Perhaps, as you say, they might sell only a few objects to cover the shortfall. I'm afraid it looks to an outsider as if the present board and administration at Brandeis are lacking in art sense, historical sense, and vision. Perhaps it's not too late for Brandeis to reconsider.

Anonymous said...

What's going on? This example seems to fit in with so many of the "decisions" people are making today without concern for anything or anyone but their own self interest.
I don't know the legal end of this situation, but I believe that when art and heirlooms are donated to a museum, the overseers become caretakers of these things, not owners.

William T White said...

This sounds like a test case for court.If I was to donate Art Work to a museum my expectation would be that the Art Work would stay in the museum.It seems to me that Brandeis is taking the easy way out of their finanical problems.There was a time when these museums where looked upon as caretakers of Collections, and Art Work,and they did so for the common good of all. Hard times calls for Hard decesions,but selling off the Rose Museum should be the last thing they do...

Anonymous said...

Do trustees have total control legally? Are they responsible to anyone?

Anonymous said...

I think donors should know what will happen to their donations if the recipient does not want them. I've worked with local libraries - some of the donated books are unwanted. These books are literally destroyed by ripping the covers off and throwing them into a trash bin. I've offered to take the books to try to give them a chance at life again but have been turned down. I don't believe the books would be donated if the donors actually realized their gifts would be treated in this manner.

Anonymous said...

I think the Brandeis University trustees are undermining all future donations. This is VERY WRONG to sell off the museum pieces that are donated without discussion with faculty, students & the donators. It seems they are going about this in a very underhanded way. Too much of this kind of decision making has done great harm to our country already. Are they slow learners? SHAME ON THEM!

Anonymous said...

What a terrible abuse of power.I feel the State Attorney Generals Office should immediately ask for an accounting of all the artifacts; initiate an investigatiion and insure that individual items and proceeds from sale do not enure to the benefit of the Chancellor,staff and high level administrators.Corruption does not exist only on Wall Street and in Congress.

ShirleyAnn said...

I feel that the decision made by Brandeis University to close the Rose Art Museum was extreme and seemingly hasty. They could have sold SOME of its contents to cover the crisis and keep the museum in tact.

Anonymous said...

THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET - Beware when you donate anywhere, what you think will be on display can be sold off for operating expenses, or be hidden in some wharehouse unseen forever. As a collectibles dealer, when we hear we are donating, we say make sure you put something together legally that says the donation can't be sold for operating expenses, and that you will take repossession if they want to. Sometimes we see people who want to do good for a particular place, and we say to them, most institutions want cash, better to sell your collections, and give cash to them or their children. We say this in sincerity, and most of the time it's something we would not even buy. See an attorney before you donate

Anonymous said...

Brandeis calls itself "The right Choice" on it's website. That may be true for students, but potential donors will be thinking twice. The museum closing and selling of the collection is certain to be discussed at the AAM's annual meeting in May, 300 miles down the coast in Philadelphia. F. Madsen

HelenMarie said...

I was appalled to read about Brandeis. I cannot imagine the University of Pennsylvania selling off the wonderful collections in their museum of antiquities that have excited me and my children and grandchildren...and untold others. How very pedestrian their thinking is. What enormous disrespect for those who produce art as well as those who collect it. It's almost as bad as Philadelphia's mayor's idea to close the libraries. Might as well burn the books.

misstrouble said...

In my opinion, a gift donated to a museum should be used only for the reason it was given. If they no longer want to display the item, they should ask the donor if they want it back. It was given with the intent of being displayed for others to enjoy seeing not to be sold. If the donor is no longer alive, relatives should be contacted. A donor should stipulate that an item is to be returned if no longer being displayed and if I am deceased it is to be returned to the family to do with as they see fit - keep it or whatever. As you stated, if they don't agree to that, they do not get the item. To be on the safe side, I think I would have a good attorney draft a document with all the possibilites covered being sure to cover finding the family. A signed document should have legal standing.

Sharon Carroll said...

Not only is this morally wrong but should be legally wrong! These items were donated for the PUBLIC to see and enjoy. Therefore Brandeis had no right to make money off of these items. I think that the original collectors who donated these items should sue Brandeis!

Robert said...

In my opinion, de-accessioning art is a shady practice by museums who often will accept the art with a promise, implied or actual, to display the work. Donors often want to leave behind a beautiful memorial of themselves and their art collection by making the donation, unaware that museums more often than not will either store the work or sell it.

I suspect that Brandeis will only be legally bound to return the work to the heirs (or some other museum) if there is a specific term in a written agreement to do so. I hope that more donors will be saavy enough to get a written agreement as to how a donated work is to be displayed and/or retained in a collection before making the donation.

Anonymous said...

The secrecy with which Brandeis proceeded in this decision tells the tale. They knew they would be wrong to close the museum and sell its contents, so they subscribed to the old adage: Better to beg forgiveness than get permission. Perhaps they didn't need anyone's permission, but they shouldn't expect much forgiveness, either. A sophomoric decision, at best.

Anonymous said...

I think that one of the worst parts of this is that the collection as a whole would be dispersed and therefore the likes of which may NEVER be realized again. I feel this will be unforgivable and MAY be forever irreplaceable. If it is true that donors will not get the opportunity to retrieve the items donated, this would build a mistrust that may not be repaired in the future as well. Wendy from Ohio

nanci said...

I agree this is wrong...in fact I would now think more than twice about donating anything to a museum because my intent would be for it to be enjoyed by a multitude, not a private collector. Shame on them!

Anonymous said...

I fear this will set a precedent for other colleges and universities to close their galleries and sell off their collections.
There is a small college in VA that sold one piece from their collection and have put the sale of a few more on hold until the market turns around. They say they need the proceeds for their operating budget.
Shame on them both!

Anonymous said...

This is terrible. My in-laws have many children and a few inherited pieces of artwork from a relative who was an early 20th century American Impressionist painter. Instead of giving the paintings to a few children or selling them and splitting the money, they want to donate the paintings so the world will see them. (They are minor paintings of a listed artist.) I tell them all the time that they won't be seen, or worse, will be sold. I can't wait to send them this. This is not unusual. Just grand in scope. Usually it is done more quietly.

DanaPtOpLover said...

A main source of worry to people who want to leave possessions for the world's benefit! How is a non-wealthy person supposed to deal with these complexities? You end up feeling betrayed that the laws do not protect your rights/intentions.

Anonymous said...

Having spent a lot of time helping at museums I am also appalled at this school for being so dishonorable. No wonder so many young people don't see it wrong to be dishonest when they see things like this from the people that they are suppose to be learning about life from.

In defense of museums though, I have to say that there are sometimes good reasons why thins can be should or not out on display all the time. Many artifacts need to be stored in light, temperature and humidity controlled places for certain periods of time so they shouldn't be out on display all the time. Sometimes after a number of years a museum realizes that the have a number of duplicate items and it would not be interesting or practical to keep all of them on display (some can be rotated while others may be sold to help take better care of the whole collection.

On a sad point my local community tore down one of the first buildings built here in 1851 (a church/school house,) though it had been donated to the city by people that had raised the money and bought it to preserve it. The city needed the land to install an electrical transforming station. I often wish that the family that donated it had gone to court with the city over it.

Anonymous said...

Some of the work was donated for tax reasons, and the donors probably do not care, or at least do not want their donations back because they would have to repay the IRS. If the donations were merely to display the art, the pieces should have been loaned to the museum. We should have seen this coming, they have been selling off donated books for years. That Steven Fischer is probably a Rockport lawyer wanting to sue someone.

Marvin said...

It is sad that people will have to hire lawyers to draw up 'donation terms' contracts in order to be assured that their intentions are being complied with and include a clause as to what should occur if the receiving organization decides to do something other than what was understood. This discussion could go on in many directions because as I understand it a donation becomes the property of the organization receiving it. The bottom line I guess would be the 'integrity' of the institution itself and those that run it. If this is lacking then your donation is at the mercy of those in charge.

Anonymous said...

Dismantling a $350 million collection because of a $10 million shortfall? Shame on them! This kind of thing is happening everywhere. Beware, the current "generation in power" suffers from the mentality that everything in America is for sale. They don't seem able to manage any money and they perceive the solution to their money woes is to go get more money. Will they mismanage these funds as well? None of my kids will apply to Brandeis, or to Randolph Macon in Lynchburg VA either!

Clay Bryant said...

Clay Bryant
Nothing shocks me too much anymore.It seems like the dollar has been "mentally devalued" and anyone will try anything if they get away with it.I'm watching my country being sold out at my children's and grandchildrens expense by people in Washington who live in a "screw you"type of shell and will do anything to advance themselves in their own little world.There is absolutely no respect for other people or their money.That is the key.NO RESPECT.I grew up out in the Great Plains where an attitude like that lasts about as long as a snowball in a furnace.I've been back east here for 15 years and it has really got worse,extremely.The people "on the ground"close in to the situation need to take pictures of the board members and post them by the thousands around in public places to humble them into respect.If they don't grasp that and go about their ways,they're actually what they appear to be,a worthless piece of humanity.

acharrell said...

The best solution, if one is not in dire financial straits oneself, is to place works of art or other collectibles on permanent loan to a museum or other collection. I'm willing to bet some of the items at Brandeis are in this category, but many others were "donated" through monetary gifts for purchasing them.

Anonymous said...

The administration of the school must be desperate for cash or there is a power play in the background. Closing the museum is a loss to the quality & prestige of the school. It may reduce future donations. By the way, the high point of my visit to Indiana University at Bloomington was its wonderful IM Pei designed museum which dramatically asserts the university's devotion to the arts and history. Bad choice by Brandeis.

Anonymous said...

Change the law! I know that may take time but this should never happen again. There should be a clause which states that the donor should have the right to reclaim any artifact ,or determine whom else should be its benafactor if such gift is being marketed as a result of the closure of a museum. I hope some college law students out there take this issue on and insure that other generous donors don't suffer for their genorosity.
And what does this teach? Certainly not respect for history, rather greed need!

Anonymous said...

Art is a luxury item for wealthy people to have on the wall when times are good. When times are bad, families formerly wealthy sell art. Why should it be any different for a university?

Besides, it is the board of trustees who made the decision; they (like at every university) run the show.

Anonymous said...

Debbie from Ontario
Should an item of history be donated to a museum for all to see, it is should be a crime for this sort of thing to happen. People give in good faith and item should be returned and not used for profit and to balance books. Its not right!

JudyJudyJudy said...

I highly recommend that people check out the story done by NPR -- an interview with the president of Brandeis -- who says the $10 million issue has been resolved, and that they are concerned about their endowments, and that this may or may not happen at all. Just log on to npr.org and type "Brandeis" into the search, then click on the article and take a listen. The president of the university also talks about not doing it right away, etc.

But beyond the story is my overall concern that works of art that have become a worthwhile cultural collection over time will be broken up and the once-celebrated cultural effect and celebration will disintegrate into disjointed snippets of images and items. A great deal of thought must go into how the items as a whole will be affected when the few are sacrificed to make up a shortfall. They need to be creative and innovative in handling their finances rather than throwing a couple of buckets on a fire that may or may not heed to the result.

Anonymous said...

A donation is the same as giving the items to someone. If I give a donation to Good Will I cannot tell them what to do with the items or take them back if they don't sell. On the other hand, if I loan the items to someone then technically they are still mine. When donating items it would be best to have your wishes in writing.

valerie said...

Let the university resign from the orginization then they should get in touch with all the donors. If the donor wants their gift back it should be given back. If the donor does not want it back it can then be put up for sale. Shame on the trustees for having gotten themselves in such a pickle of a predicament. I don't think I would want any of my relatives going to such an unprincipled university.Valerie

Blodgett said...

Sounds like Brandeis is showing their true colors...they are in it for the money first and foremost! Just plain GREED! They have taken advantage of those who donated with the understanding those items would be valued and displayed for the enjoyment of all and not ending up in a private collection. If this were the donors intention, they would have donated the items to the Goodwill Industries or a simular organization who would have at least been honest about their intentions and this would most certainly ensure the items would be privately owned in the end. I think this is criminal and theft, period! This will make people think twice before making donations and will unfortunately have a negative effect for all institutions.

Anonymous said...

Museums everywhere may lose their donations due to this outrageous behaviour.
I had donated a lot of my great-grandmother's and grandfather's to our county museum for historical purposes since he was the county's first homesteader.
I plan, now, to request everything to be returned. I would rather portion it out to my children and grandchildren then let it be sold to strangers to bail out the museum if it came to that.
What a shame that donors must now think twice about sharing their historical items with the general public through museums.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from liberals?

Anonymous said...

Just random thoughts-- as i read others - 1- it is a shame that artwork will not be avalable to the public -2- lots of comments are knee-jerk with no info -3-the donors got a hefty tax freebie from all of us -3-some museums are the still hold looted art from the holocaust - these people are not all saints 3- lets stop the liberal/conservative stupidity - the people of the US VOTED for change not continued name calling
4- let's listen to each other with some respect on ALL issues. 5-if we ignore history & art as its expression we may get what that narrow view brings us 5- proud liberal -- southern belle

Anonymous said...

Shame! Shame on Brandeis!!
The university should stop this immediately, the perpetrators dismissed and an inquirey held to see if any local, state or federal laws including taxation have been violated.
Idiots!!

Anonymous said...

The Association needs to change its rules. If you can only sell art to buy new art, Brandeis had no choice but to close the museum. This rule has hindered universities and museums for many years. Many of them have extensive collections that never see the light of day and the money could be used for other things, including the upkeep and preservation of those very collections.
Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Looks like the board of directors should have kept their hands out of the till and they need to be audited to find out where all the money went in the first place because it's obvious it didn't go where it should have. If the money was where it belongs they wouldn't be in a bind in the first place.
Like alot of places, mucky-mucks take what monies they want right off the top then try to balance what is left. Isn't that illegal?
Our family decided long ago never to donate to an institution like that for just this reason. The people that are in positions to Protect those treasures are falling so short of their reposibilities it's a crying shame.

Anonymous said...

I'm a full-fledged pessimist. The very idea that the trustees held a secret meeting, discussed, and concluded that it was perfectly okay to sell out the university, its students, its community, its generous donors, and finally a part of our country's heritage is nothing more than an ego trip on the rampage.

My heart sank after reading that article. If the trustees of a university have this type of power, maybe the university, maybe all universities, need to reevaluate the power given to them. Horrible endings of this nature usually begin with horrible, secretive, and shortsided decision-makers at the helm.

Anonymous said...

THIS "REALLY"OPENED MY EYE'S TO DONATING .THO MINE IS LOCAL AND VERY VALUABLE.I WILL LOOK INTO THIS TODAY TO SEE WHAT THERE POLICIES ARE ON PAPER....LINDA

Anonymous said...

The way some people in "authority" take such issues into their own hands disgusts me. They never even consulted the staff or students about this? Were they afraid that others might come up with a better plan? A museum should only close because it has been destroyed by some disaster. Even then, every effort should be made to rebuild. What this board did was underhanded and two-faced. They have spit in the face of the faculty, the student body, and the donors. I would move for their dismissal, impeachment, whatever it takes to get the out of positions of authority.

Anonymous said...

It appears that the "trustees" have too much power, and, as we see much too often, have abused it! They should be replaced and new trustees should be limited to the harm they can do in the name of budget correction!

Anonymous said...

As an early-year graduate of Brandeis, I can understand the knee-jerk response to the financial nightmare ahead. However, I question whether this sale genuinely represents "Truth unto its innermost parts."

Anonymous said...

What a deplorable and despicable act! These trustees (if you can call them that because they are certainly not doing their job) should be taken out and quartered. What sort of mind wants to sell off assets such as these? No wonder the world is falling into a mindset of greed and corruption when the "niceties of life" for all to appreciate are dispersed to a very few with money. Also, the art will lose value because it is being put on the market in a desperate act. Shame, shame, shame.

Anonymous said...

leave not a gift to this inconsiderate JOINT.

Donnis said...

I would like to share a few comments about donating and deaccessioning derived from things I learned in my course work (MLIS in archives) and personal experience (I work in a library, volunteer in an historical society, and sit on the board of a small museum).
First,a good reason and method for deaccessioning: Institutions are now trying to limit their collections to items within their mission. If they already own something which is out of their scope, the institution should first offer the item to another institution that does focus on that kind of thing.
Second, items intended for posterity need special care and handling--museum-quality archival boxes, temperature and humidity controlled storage, etc., aren't cheap, and donors today should expect to be asked to contribute money toward the item's upkeep, or, if not asked, should offer money with the item. (If the institution really wants what you're offering, they'll probably accept it even if you can't come up with any dough. This is part of how they get in financial trouble).
You need to ask for a "deed of gift" when donating something to an institution. Although the deed of gift usually states that the item is given to the institution to use as it sees fit, and the donor relinquishes any say in what happens to the item, it should be possible to negotiate different terms. If the institution does not agree to the limitations you want to impose, then don't donate the item.
While they aren't exactly the same, there have been three relatively recent, unpopular but legal high-profile art and antiques precedents which may have influenced Brandeis' draconian move: First, the court's decision to remove the Barnes art collection from Dr. Barnes' home (in Merion, Pa.). Barnes had what was believed to be an iron-clad will stating his collection was to remain in his home, just as he arranged it (he juxtaposed items to instruct art students), yet a judge overturned his will and the items can now be removed to a Philadelphia museum. The monies left to care for the collection had been misused and moving it was presented as economic necessity.
The second and third precedents were the sale of part of the New-York Historical Society's collection, and The New York Public Library's sale of the famous Hudson River School painting "Kindred Spirits" (to a Wal-Mart heiress who is starting a museum). None of these decisions were popular, but they all seem to have been legal.
Finally, be aware that not all museums are accredited. Those that aren't accredited are not likely to care about the AAM's opinion.
Although the Brandeis debacle is in a college, the backlash will be felt by any institution receiving donations. I think both donors and receiving institutions need to be aware that libraries, museums, and historical societies will really have to behave more like publically held businesses, mindful of the bottom line and transparent in their dealings. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but like other recent economic realities, it may take some getting used to.

JHanzel said...

I think this is abhorrent. Many schools, many people, feel severely threatened by the current economic problems, but a good school endowment fund should be structured to "level things out".

And in fact, according to the Brandeis University Development and Alumni Relations web link:


"As of December 31, 2008, The Campaign for Brandeis has raised $819 Million, or 67% of the $1.2 Billion goal."

Museums are entitled to de-accession items that are not appropriate to their collection, but constricted by the promises given when the pieces were accepted. I know most major museums will no longer accept anything except "the best of the best" with a hold forever clause, even if tagged to big money. With almost 7,200 pieces they probably do need to clean house.

It would have been a much better approach to send letters to people who had donated the works now to be sold from the collection, letting them know that when sold a “memorial” donation plaque would be posted, and they would also be recognized in the “Annual Donation Report”, maybe under a special section of “Those Working to Ensure Our Future”.

Anonymous said...

Brandeis is only the latest in a series of institutions whose boards have made decisions that may have been in violation of charitable trust laws. (Are any of these colleges talking to their lawyers beforehand???)

Some of the institutions currently involved in court proceedings related to possible breach of trust include:

* Tulane University and the Newcomb College trust
http://www.newcomblives.com/main/

* St. Olaf College and their sale of the first listener-supported radio station in the USA, WCAL:
http://savewcal.net

* Fisk University's attempts to sell off parts of it's art collection donated by Georgia O'Keefe
http://theartlawblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/fisk-okeeffe-settlement-take-two.html

* Trinity International University and their sale of listener-supported radio station, WMCU:
http://www.savewmcu.com/

One institution that fortuitously changed its mind when faced with donor rage was Columbia Union College when it tried to sell radio station WGTS.

We haven't seen the end of this sort of behavior, that's for sure. Donors deserve and have a right to the respect of the institution that is taking their money.

Anonymous said...

As an antiques dealer I bought a painting of a WWI pilot at an auction and put it in my shop. I had a member of the family that donated this piece to a local museum come in and they were angry. First at me, and then the museum that sold it. The museum reminded them, that once donated it was theirs and they had decided it didn't fit in their air museum, it should be in a military museum or collection, so they sold it. The family has it back now, and will never donate to a museum again.

Terry Kovel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry Kovel said...

Wow!!! We have never had a reaction like this one. Collectors are the best! It is clear that almost all of you are upset by the actions of the Brandeis board. It is surprising that no one on the board suggested there would be expensive legal and tax problems that could take years to solve, that the students, faculty, alumni, friends, and just plain folks would be upset. A $10 million deficit could be carried for a year or so and with planning and careful spending could be cleared up. Every college in the country has seen the endowment fall in this economic crisis and they have worked out temporary solutions. Some of you sent lists of people to contact and petitions to sign and we are including them in the next Kovels Komments where they will be easier to find. Make your voice heard.

Because we think the public should be able to see great art or important historic objects or the every day life of the past we plan to continue donating appropriate pieces. But we plan to check on how the organization has treated donations in the past and what it says in the papers they sign when they accept the gift. Your loud voice here and elsewhere should force the academic and art worlds to act more responsibly. Years ago museums de-accessioned pieces by selling them to favored dealers or friends. Now they know they must have a public auction so the actions are "transparent.". We will report any news. Please let us know what you learn.

JanetAD said...

The gall of the TRUST(?)EES.

wolfmom said...

Excluding those who donate for a tax deduction I think most people donate for a variety of emotional reasons. To violate that trust that is put into that donation is shameful. To think that a family might donate something that provides history to a community is to carry on a family legacy. It would be insulting to find out that something held dear, to be shared with many, meant so little to those entrusted with it's care. The dollar value of the Brandise collection is probably by far a drop in the bucket compared to the social, historical and emotional value. To sell it piece by piece to whoever hurts everyone

plays with crayons said...

Typical corporate mentality. Sell, sell, sell. Yes, corporate mentality thrives even in academia. For shame on Brandeis!

Anonymous said...

I happen to work for a museum/gallery and we exist solely on private donations, and have done so for 40+ years. The action of the university is frightening, but seems to fit into what has happened in the country economically (cut and run and screw the investors). The bad PR and loss of faith of the contributors will be immeasurable. They will probably lose more in donations as there may well be a ripple effect.

Anonymous said...

That was an easy decision on their part. Financial solutions require scaffolds, not axes. How about some salary cuts?

cameron1831 said...

What they did was wrong. If you want to contribute to a museum, designate your item as being on loan, it can't be sold and still be appreciated by others.

Anonymous said...

I work for a museum--not art, but history. Although I am saddened by the sale of the Brandeis art, please be aware that most museums are not allowed to take items without gaining ownership of the pieces. It costs a goodly amount of money to keep items preserved and available for the public. With limited funds we cannot afford to pay to preserve items that the family may come and reclaim. Would you spend thousands of dollars to properly clean, box, catalog, and display items if tomorrow the owners could come take the pieces back?

The Brandeis donors definitely were able to take a huge tax write off. They did not lose money by the original donation, nor by the sale of that collection. They might be very disappointed that the intent of the gift is now ignored--but they did not lose money.

Please, do not refuse to donate items to museums simply because one place was not able to afford its collection. Most museums work hard to accept only items they know they have the resouces to care for and will be able to use for exhibition some day. I am so saddened by the people who think collecting is all about money. Most museums use their collections for telling stories, and for sharing the knowledge and art with as many people as possible. It's an expensive job, and an impossible one if people feel they need to keep control of their collection until they can get top price for it.

Terry Kovel said...

The problem is that when you give, you want it to someday be shown in the museum, not sold to support something the next board wants. We always donate with the requirement that if the piece is sold, the money goes for another piece for the collection, not even another piece for the museum. For example, our Ohio historical society was selling decorative art in their collection to buy historic cars and not to buy decorative art from Ohio, as we wanted.