UIMA presents "When Values Collide: Financial Asset or Cultural Resource" April 15

The Metropolitan Museum, New York. The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Massachusetts. The Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, Virginia. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

These are just a few of the museums to catch the public eye in recent years and months for decisions to deaccession—or sell—art from their collections. The University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) will present a free, public program examining this often controversial issue at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15 at the University Athletic Club, 1360 Melrose Ave., Iowa City. In advance of the event, Museum donors at the Elliott Society level are invited to an exclusive reception at 5 p.m.

The program, entitled “When Values Collide: Financial Asset or Cultural Resource,” will feature a keynote address from veteran cultural journalist Lee Rosenbaum. A prominent art blogger and a frequent writer for the Wall Street Journal’s “Leisure & Arts” page, Rosenbaum has often been the first to break the news about museum deaccessioning controversies. Iowa City-based attorney David Bright, who serves on the American Bar Association’s Art & Cultural Heritage Law Committee and the UIMA Members Council, will join Rosenbaum for the talk.

“As part of the university, an educational institution, it is our responsibility to help the public learn about this issue—especially during tough economic times,” said UIMA Interim Director Pamela White. “The paintings in our collections are cultural resources we hold in trust for future generations, and they are essential to the university’s academic mission.”

The program’s focus is especially relevant for the UIMA in light of recent events, White said. In 2008, at the request of the Board of Regents, the university prepared an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of deaccessioning the Museum’s most celebrated painting, Jackson Pollock’s Mural (1943).

Rosenbaum, who covered the Pollock story on her blog, advocates clearly enunciated, well-publicized standards regarding deaccessioning practices.

“It's important for the public to know and understand these issues because this is their stuff: We've paid for it with the tax deductions that people get for donating it, as well as through museums' tax-exempt status, which they get through properly fulfilling their public purpose,” she said.

Currently, organizations like the American Association of Museums (AAM), which accredits museums that meet that organization’s standards, and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which represents major art museums in the United States, Canada and Mexico, outline deaccessioning best practices.

“There are strict guidelines about when museums are allowed to deaccession objects and what the money from such sales can be used for,” White said.

Museums have to take into account many ethical and legal intricacies when they consider deaccessioning works from their collections, Bright said.

“Deaccessioning involves many areas of the law, including charitable giving law, estate planning and probate law, contract law, art law and higher education law,” he said. “It takes considerable effort and due diligence for organizations to navigate this process. In many ways, the University of Iowa’s experience can serve as a model for other institutions to follow.”

To raise public awareness about deaccessioning rules in the long term, Rosenbaum said university museums need to reach out to their constituencies within their institutions and in surrounding communities.

“I like to analogize the art in the university's museum to the books in its library,” Rosenbaum said. “The artworks are primary sources of information and knowledge for anyone at the university or in the broader community who is interested in cultural, intellectual and political history, not to mention those who are enrolled in a university's fine arts program.”

“When Values Collide” is second of three talks in the UIMA’s Spring 2009 Elliott Society Lecture Series. The third lecture, for museum donors at the Elliott Society level and above, will be presented at the same location on Wednesday, April 22 (“Art as Inspiration: The Value of Art Education”).

A graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Lee Rosenbaum has frequently contributed to the Wall Street Journal, New York Public Radio, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She has also appeared on BBC-TV. A widely read blogger and cultural commentator, she is author of “The Complete Guide to Collecting Art” (Knopf) and has lectured on artworld issues at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Law School, Seton Hall University, the annual conference of the Museum Association of New York and a conference sponsored by UNESCO and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture at the New Acropolis Museum. For more information, visit her blog CultureGrrl at http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl.

David Bright practices law with Meardon, Sueppel & Downer, P.L.C., where he focuses a significant portion of his practice on nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations. He is a frequent speaker at state continuing legal education events and a regular guest speaker at the University of Northern Iowa on philanthropy and the law. He serves as President of the Iowa Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts on the Members’ Council for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. He also serves on the American Bar Association’s Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee and Steering Group and is the author of an upcoming series of articles for the Committee’s Newsletter on litigation relating to the wreck and artifacts of the R.M.S. Titanic. Bright was born and raised in Iowa City and earned both his B.S. and J.D. from the University of Iowa.

The UI Museum of Art offices have been relocated to the Studio Arts Building (formerly Menards), 1375 Highway 1 West, 1840 SA, Iowa City, IA 52242. For up-to-date museum information visit http://www.uiowa.edu/uima or the UIMA blog, "Art Matters," at http://uima.blogspot.com, or call 319-335-1725.

Link to University News Services release here.

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