My AH HA Moment in Thesis

Anne Baker
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My thesis is about deaccessioning issues in museums. This statement is the short sweet version. In reality deaccessioning is a deeply misunderstood and complicated issue. Why? Here is a fictional situation that discusses this notion: Would you sell your mother’s wedding ring to pay a bill? Sure! You have no money to pay your bills and it is worth a a lot of money. You had it appraised and you feel you have no choice. But you love that wedding ring and your mother put in in YOUR care. It brings back memories and has no REAL monetary value to you. On the other side of the story, what would other members of your family say when they found out you sold the ring? They may never speak to you again. So what do you do? You have NO money to pay your bills, but if you sell the ring your family will forever ostracize you. On the other hand, the electric company is about to turn your power off. What do you do? Turn your back on your family? Trip in the dark and break your ankle?
Okay now imagine you are Detroit and you owe almost $18 million to debt collectors and also claim the artwork in the museum as a monetary asset. The director of the Detroit Institute of Art, and the city have a HUGE problem. Do you sell the Picasso so the lights don’t get turned off in the city? I would hope, and many museum officials would also agree, the answer to be NO. The artwork is held in the public trust, even the attorney general of the State of Michigan stated that it would be a breach of law to sell the works to pay off the city debt. The citizens of Detroit even agreed to a real-estate tax increase to help offset costs for the museum; they care about the museum and the works that it holds. This is an excellent example of community engagement and a great relationship and PUBLIC TRUST. Deaccessioning, or selling/disposing, a work of art to pay operating funds is highly unethical in the museum community. Funds should go towards acquisition of new collections or care for the collection.
Museums do not see a monetary value behind a work of art; they see the cultural significance it has (at least they are supposed to, there are many case studies where this seems no evident). In an article in the New York Times, it is pointed out that dollar signs and worth are constantly relayed to the public. This concept of value was my “ah ha” moment. When Detroit was in trouble it seemed that the first thing people thought about were the artworks in the museum and their million dollar figures. The works of art hold cultural significance; something worth more than money and it would damage the cities viability and importance in the future to get rid of the works of art.

“Bather by the Sea,” Picasso, 1939, DIA
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This case is just a small portion of deaccessioning issues that museums face. Unclear guidelines as to what constitutes care for the collection also poses a problem when deaccessioning a work, and museums receive grievances from the public and other institutions when it seems that “care for the collection” is stretched. But if a museum is going to literally fall apart, what should they do?
So, they question still remains, would you sell the ring?
Itzkoff, Dave. “Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts Cannot Be Sold, Its Director Says.” ArtsBeat Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts Cannot Be Sold Its Director Says Comments. The New York Times, 24 May 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. .
Kennedy, Randy, and Monica Davey. “Detroit’s Creditors Eyes Its Art Collection.” Art and Design. The New York Times, 19 July 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. .

Smith, Roberta. “In Detroit, a Case of Art and Selling Out.” Art and Design. The New York Times, 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2013. .