Rose Matters

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In the continuing drama of the attempt by Brandeis University to — choose your term — transform/shut down/trash — its Rose Museum of Art, more than 50 members of the Rose family rose up on Monday. It was the Roses who contributed the original $1 million endowment that paid for construction of the museum in 1961. At a Brandeis symposium on Monday night about the fate of art museums in the current financial crisis, the family issued a declaration of war.

These are the parts that matter:

The university is effectively closing the museum before the Attorney General or any court has ruled that closing is allowed. This is being accomplished not only by a premature announcement of closure, but also by withholding the Rose’s own money and cutting its staff, resources, and activities.

“Re‐purposing” the museum is closing by another name. It would not be the Rose. Any other understanding of the university’s current plan is disinformation. The administration wants to control money given to the Rose for museum purposes, to sell precious works of art, and to close the museum.

Then this:

We, the Rose Family, protest the plundering of the Rose Art Museum and its collection. Ed and Bertha Rose not only funded the planning and construction of the museum, but also set up three funds, separate from the Brandeis endowment, to perpetuate the Museum: the Rose Maintenance Fund, the Rose Museum Endowment Fund, and the Rose Endowed Purchase Fund. The existence and mission of the Rose benefit art, culture and education—locally and worldwide. The Rose offers students and the public a prized modern and contemporary art collection.

Then this — their objectives:

1. Immediate renewal of contracts with the Museum Director and all his staff. Those salaries are paid from dedicated funds donated to or raised by the Museum—not from the general budget of Brandeis.

2. Authorization for the Director to prepare and install the next exhibit, to open when the Hans Hofmann exhibit comes down in May. Otherwise, the walls will be bare and there will be no exhibitions. Brandeis will have effectively closed the Rose Art Museum.

3. A promise that Brandeis will not sell any art belonging to the Rose.

4. A commitment that Brandeis will honor the donors’ intentions that there be a public art
museum at Brandeis, and the Rose is that museum.

As Geoff Edgers at the Boston Globe is reporting, the Rose board chairman Jonathan Lee, whom I talked to last month, has retained a Boston attorney, Edward Terry Dangel III. Edgers also quotes Joe Baerlein, a public relations consultant hired by Brandeis to deal with this mess. (They certainly needed a new one after the initial roll out of the announcement, in which they said they were closing the museum and selling its collection and then, whoops, said they weren’t.) Baerlein says that an 11-member committee formed by the university to examine this situation will meet Thursday.

My favorite part of the Globe story is this:

Baerlein said: “I’ve heard the president say, on more than one occasion, to different groups, that everything is on the table.”

Can’t argue with that.