By Amy Goldrich
There is real risk in writing an article for a hard-copy publication on a topic in which things are in flux. Something new, and even dispositive, can happen between when one submits the piece for publication and when the printed journal actually appears. It must be another corollary to Murphy's Law.
Naturally, on the eve of the publication of an article on New York museum deaccessioning that was locked at the end of January, the New York Board of Regents approved new rules to govern the deaccessioning of artworks and the treatment of funds generated as a result. Effective June 8, 2011, the new rules (such as they are) will apply to all museums and historical societies charted by the Board of Regents. A copy of the rules may be found here: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2011Meetings/May2011/511brca3revised.pdfwww.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2011Meetings/May2011/511brca3revised.pdf">http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2011Meetings/May2011/511brca3revised.pdf>.
So what do the new rules do?
1. They list 10 specific criteria, and at least one criterion must be present to support the deaccession of an item from a museum's collection. This is a step beyond AAMD and AAM guidelines, which do not require that any particular factor be present, but rather that the factors be considered.
The 10 criteria in the new regulation are:
• The item is inconsistent with the mission of the institution as set forth in its mission statement.
• The item has failed to retain its identity.
• The item is redundant.
• The item's preservation and conservation needs are beyond the capacity of the institution to provide.
• The item is deaccessioned to accomplish refinement of collections.
• It has been established that the item is inauthentic.
• The institution is repatriating the item or returning the item to its rightful owner.
• The institution is returning the item to the donor, or the donor's heirs or assigns, to fulfill donor restrictions relating to the item which the institution is no longer able to meet.
• The item presents a hazard to people or other collection items.
• The item has been lost or stolen and has not been recovered.
2. They leave unchanged the prohibitions on the use of funds raised through deaccessions: such funds must be used only to accession new items or for the preservation, conservation or direct care of collections.
3. Finally, they require that regulated institutions file an annual report of deaccessions.
This is certainly narrower than the Brodsky Bill, which was far more prescriptive across the board, and broader than AAMD and AAM guidelines, which do not mandate that any particular criterion must exist in order to support deaccession. On the flip side, although the new rules appear to require a more carefully justified decision to deaccession, at least one criterion -- accomplishing refinement of collections - could end up being a virtual "get out of jail free" card. What curator worth his or her salt couldn't come up with a plausible argument that the deaccession of any item or group of items would not refine a collection? However, the requirement to file an annual report of deaccessions would appear to add at least a little more transparency than was previously required. Other than that, we'll just have to wait and see if any of this makes any real difference in how regulated institutions conduct themselves.