Deaccessioning Museums USA

Delaware museum expects to be shunned 'for years' for selling art

American Alliance of Museums condemns decision as "flagrant violation" of its standards

The Delaware Art Museum

The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington has controversially decided to sell four paintings to pay off its debts and boost its depleted endowment, breaking the institution's deaccessioning policy and risking the censure of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), of which it is a member. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has already spoken out against the accredited museum’s decision, calling it “a flagrant violation” of its standards.

The Delaware Art Museum, which has a 12,500-strong collection that includes American art and some of the finest British Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the US, has long struggled with debt incurred during a $75m expansion and renovation completed in 2005.

"The funds generated from the sale, projected to be $30m, will repay the full balance of the museum's $19.8m bond debt" and rebuild its endowment, the museum's trustees announced in a statement yesterday (26 March). They claim to have explored "every reasonable alternative" to the drastic action.

The trustees consulted the AAMD and the AAM, but decided unanimously to go ahead with the sale, which is due to take place over the next six months. The titles of the works earmarked for sale have not been disclosed. Works donated or bequeathed are not on the short list.

Ford Bell, the president of the AAM, denounced the museum’s actions today (27 March). “The Delaware Art Museum’s decision threatens to erode the trust that museums have earned from the American public over more than two centuries, as well as the respect museums have been assiduously building...at all levels of government,” Bell said in a statement. “It is critical that the museum field condemn the declared actions of the Delaware Art Museum.”

The AAMD echoed Bell’s concern, noting that it is “deeply disturbed” by the museum’s decision. "Their sale would be the community’s loss,” the organisation said in a statement.

The museum attempted to reduce its long-standing debt with a centennial campaign launched in 2011, which featured a fundraising gala attended by Vice President Joe Biden. Fundraising proved an uphill task, however, and $6.9m was raised in total.

The museum has not had a director since the departure in August of Danielle Rice, who arrived in 2005. Michael Miller is the museum's chief executive until a new director is hired. He became the institution's chief financial officer in 2007. The museum plans to appoint a director after the sale has taken place, it said in a statement. Meanwhile, Miller told the Wilmington newspaper The News Journal that he expected the art museum to be "shunned for a period of years".

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