Statement Against Monetizing the Collections of Academic Museums & Galleries

The Association of Academic Museums & Galleries (AAMG)

28 June 2021

Debates within the museum profession, fueled and sometimes distorted by the media, have created confusion about deaccessioning.  AAMG recognizes the ethical guidelines on deaccessioning promulgated by major museum associations, including the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  AAMG also understands that college and university museum collections represent diverse disciplines (including but not limited to art, anthropology, history, and natural history) whose ethical guidelines may differ in modest ways, as articulated in the standards of discipline-specific museum associations (including AAMD, AASLH and others).  In recognition of the unique attributes and missions of academic museums, AAMG published its own Professional Practices for Academic Museums & Galleries in 2017.  Recognizing that individual museums remain subject to the guidelines and ethics of their appropriate professional associations, the AAMG Board of Directors endorses the principles below, which are intended to clarify and reinforce AAMG’s existing guidelines to address the challenges facing museums in these unprecedented times.

AAMG reasserts its condemnation of the monetization of collections.  Proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works should never be utilized to fund the operations of the museum or its parent institution, including exhibition and programming costs, capital improvement or related expenses, the servicing or repayment of debt, or the establishment of endowments dedicated to any of these purposes.  This prohibition also extends to staff salaries and endowments for the general support of staff or faculty.

AAMG endorses active deaccessioning to improve collections.   AAMG recognizes that the permanent removal of objects that are duplicative; degraded beyond repair; forged; fake; inappropriately sourced, collected, conveyed, or acquired; or no longer in alignment with the museum’s stated mission is an important tool for strengthening the academic museum and its capacity to serve its many audiences.  AAMG also acknowledges that the due diligence necessary for the legal, ethical and strategic implementation of deaccessioning requires a significant investment of time and money.  Accordingly, museums may reimburse themselves for the direct costs required to deaccession collection objects from the proceeds earned through the sale of such objects.  Applying restrictions to “net” instead of “gross” proceeds provides necessary resources for museum research on provenance and deed of gift restrictions, determining viable means of sale, access to consultants, or other activities that may be required for responsible deaccessioning.  

AAMG maintains its position that proceeds from sale of deaccessioned collection objects must be reinvested in the collection.  This investment may take a variety of forms:

♦ Proceeds may be used to acquire other works that diversify collections, benefit underrepresented groups, and/or combat institutional racism — all being viable means to advance the relevance, integrity, and social responsibility of museum collections. 

♦ Acceptable uses of deaccessioning proceeds for acquisition may extend beyond purchase price to include all costs of acquisition, whether by purchase or gift, including packing, shipping, and processing as required for intake into the collection.  

♦ In the case of damaged or disfigured objects already owned by the museum, proceeds may fund the direct costs of conservation necessary to make collection objects suitable for display or study, in accordance with AAM’s concept of “direct care.” 

♦ Because integrity is a central value for museums and universities alike, deaccession proceeds may also be used to fund the direct costs associated with the deaccession and subsequent repatriation or restitution of collection objects to their rightful owners.    

AAMG sponsors the Task Force for the Protection of University Collections to assist museums whose parent institutions may be tempted to monetize collections in times of crisis.  The Task Force is a collaboration among general and discipline-specific museum associations dedicated to preserving the integrity of museum collections and advancing engagement of collections by the academic community and public at large.  The Samuel H. Kress Foundation generously supports these efforts.  The AAMG website offers more information on the Task Force and its members, as well as resources on deaccessioning provided by its “Deaccessioning Tool Kit.”