AAM Accreditation Commission Announces New Policy On Museum Parent Organization Support

New Statement of Support Language Designed to Protect College Museums and Their Collections

Washington, DC –

Responding to increasing instances of threats to the sanctity of university museums and their collections, the American Association of Museums’s (AAM) Accreditation Commission — in collaboration with the Task Force on College and University Museums — has revised its existing policy on “Statements of Support from Parent Organizations.” The revisions specifically emphasize the role, value, and use of the collections, and related museum ethics and standards. The revised policy requires parent organizations–college/university, government, corporate foundation, state historical society operating multiple sites, etc.–of accredited museums to include language in a required statement of support which specifically prohibits museum collections from being considered as disposable assets.

“This new accreditation policy will play a significant role in educating academic leaders about the intrinsic value of their museums and collections, as well as their obligations to sustain both,” said David Alan Robertson, president of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries and the Katz Director of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.

The purpose of the existing policy since it debuted in 2005 is to give the Accreditation Commission some assurance of the sustainability and longevity of an institution that is not autonomous. The Accreditation Commission also requires museums that are part of a parent organization to submit evidence, issued/approved by the parent organization’s governing body, documenting the importance of the museum, and the collections in its care, to the parent organization; the parent organization’s commitment to use its resources to support the museum and its mission, and to protect the museum’s tangible and intangible assets held in the public trust

The revised Accreditation Commission policy requires such statements of support as part of the accreditation process. Failure to provide such documentation may result in a museum not receiving accreditation or being re-accredited. The complete text of the new policy, with revisions noted, can be found at: http://www.aam-us.org/museumresources/accred/MoreStandards.cfm.

The impetus for this policy and for the formation of the Task Force itself was a series of episodes of museum parent organizations looking to sell pieces from the museum’s collections in order to sustain the parent through economic difficulties. These incidents include the much-publicized events at Brandeis University and its Rose Art Museum, Fisk University, and the Maier Museum at Randolph College. Neil L. Rudenstine, President, Emeritus, Harvard University, writes, “To those institutions that, in recent years, have considered selling works of art to help strengthen their operating budgets, I would urge them to take this issue off the table. Find other ways. The total costs–in education, in trust, in integrity, in adverse opinion and controversy, and even in lost future gifts–far outweigh the immediate benefits, however tempting a sale may seem.”

Both the Accreditation Commission and the Task Force, which was formed in April 2009, contend the new, more specific policy language strengthens affected museums’ presence within their organizational governing structure and articulates the essential role these institutions fulfill within their parent organization. Implementation of the new policy also provides an opportunity to educate the parent organization leadership about museum standards and ethics, thereby offering greater protection from threats to the museum’s tangible and intangible assets.

According to Janet Landay, Executive Director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, “The organizations in the task force came together to support the crucial role art museums play on American campuses. Through the strengthening of this policy we are signaling to colleges and universities that the collections at their museums are not disposable assets, rather they are invaluable educational resources for current and future generations of students.”

The new policy applies to numerous institutions. About 35% of the nation’s 779 accredited museums operate within a parent organization, and 40% of this subgroup are part of a college or university. While the Accreditation Commission’s policy requirements are only enforceable at AAM accredited museums, they have an important impact and value for all museums in parent organizations.

“AAM’s Accreditation revisions represent an important safeguard to the vitality and well being of academic museums and their collections,” said William Durden, president of Dickinson College. “The revisions highlight the significance of original source material as the basis for inspiration, study and enjoyment. They underscore the authority of academic museums to manage their collections, which they hold in public trust, according to established professional standards for the benefit of those in the academy and visitors. But most importantly, these measures represent a pivotal barrier against the disturbing trend to regard vital academic and cultural resources as disposable, unrestricted assets.”

In the past year, the Task Force has engaged with college and university presidents to educate these leaders in the value campus museums bring to a well-rounded educational experience. The Task Force also launched a petition campaign in support of campus museums (currently signed by more than 2000 individuals) and utilized paid media to communicate its message to key constituencies.

The Task Force on University and College Museums is co-chaired by Robertson and Lyndel King, director and chief curator of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota and includes representatives from:
American Association of Museums (AAM)
Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)
Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG)
College Art Association (CAA)
Samuel H. Kress Foundation
University Museums and Collections–International Council of Museums (UMAC)
Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC)
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC)

For more information contact:
Dewey Blanton
AAM Media Relations

Categories: Museum/Gallery News