The Rose Report

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Late last week we got the interim report of the Brandeis University committee charged with looking into the school’s decision to change the mission of its Rose Art Museum and possibly sell some its collection. The upshot is that the 11-member committee, which consists of faculty, administrators, a trustee and two students, is starting from the position that their task is not to judge the wisdom of the path that Brandeis is going down but to examine how the museum can be safeguarded in the event that the school does attempt a sale.

Why would it need to be safeguarded? Because selling off part of the collection would violate the rule of several museum associations that disallow sales for any purpose other than to purchase more art. But the Brandeis sale, if it happens, would be undertaken for the purpose of closing a gap in the school’s general budget. So if anything goes to market, there’s a possibility of disciplinary action against the Rose by the larger museum world. That’s what happened recently to the National Academy Museum in New York, which sold works to pay its bills, then found itself the target of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which urged its members not lend work to National Academy shows or send their own shows to the Academy. Lately the AAMD and the Academy have been working towards an accommodation with one another, but for now the interdict still stands. The Rose, which lends work to other museums frequently and also receives, could find itself subject to the same kind of penalties.

It’s against that backdrop that the Brandeis committee, in the last part of its six-page report, defines for itself what will probably be one of its main pursuits.

If sales from the collection should occur, the committee says:

…they would have serious consequences for the professional life and standing of the museum and its staff. On this front, we have been considering (i) what sorts of policies and tactical steps could strengthen the Rose to deal with this special vulnerability, and (ii) how to plan for and mitigate the damage to the Rose and its collection..

The committee plans to spend the spring and summer soliciting ideas from all over before it issues a final report next fall. Go here to read Geoff Edgers’ Boston Globe story about the report, which includes the exasperated response of Jonathan Lee, chairman of the museum’s board of overseers. You can find the full report here.