The National Academy Promises to Sin No More

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It looks like the National Academy in New York has started the long process of mending fences with the Association of Art Museum Directors, which clobbered the Academy last year for selling two paintings from its collection to raise cash to cover general expenses. (As you probably know if you follow this blog, that’s forbidden by AAMD guidelines that only approve the sale of art to raise money to buy more art.)

Carmine Branagan, the Academy’s new director, apparently thought the sale was something she could do without penalty. (And why not — this wasn’t the first time the Academy had resorted to a desperation sale to raise cash.) She even said that before too long the Academy would be selling off two more things. Big mistake — a thoroughly ticked off AAMD more or less blacklisted her museum and urged its member museums not to lend work in future to Academy shows.

But this week a chastened Branagan and the Academy’s Treasurer David Kapp met with three representatives of the AAMD. On Wednesday everybody issued a joint statement. If Branagan was hoping that the AAMD would lift its interdict, she didn’t get that. What the statement offers first is a summary of steps that the Academy has promised to take to get its house in order.

The Academy will begin a process to restructure its governance practices to: include more rigorous fiscal oversight; institute a comprehensive fundraising program incorporating board involvement and a professional development team; formulate a strategic, long-range plan which will include a financial plan and a strengthened collections management policy. The Academy also stated that they will not sell the additional works of art as was originally proposed.

What did Branagan and Kapp get in return? Encouraging noises from the AAMD and a carefully worded glimmer of hope that the Academy might be brought in from the cold at some point down the road. It goes like this:

On the basis of these pledges and actions—and to assist the National Academy in realizing these goals—members of AAMD will meet with the Academy’s leadership over the coming months to provide guidance and support as it institutes these essential changes. Once accomplished, these initiatives will help the National Academy regain its footing as a member in good standing of the American art museum community.

In recent months I’ve been talking with museum people about the possibility that the AAMD might try to offer a kind of advisory assistance to troubled museums, maybe even establish an early warning system to identify museums on the brink and offer them guidance before they resort to actions that get them kicked out of the club. A few of the people I’ve spoken with objected that the AAMD doesn’t have the institutional resources — meaning staff and budget — to undertake a real supervisory role in the American museum world. But on a modest scale, I’d say something like that is what we’ve just seen happen here.

You can find the full statement of the AAMD and the Academy here.