Please do not sell the art treasures of the Delaware Museum

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Imagine me on my knees begging.

I beg the trustees of the Delaware Art Museum not to sell Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time” (1875), or the three or four masterpieces that the trustees market for $ 30 million in order to repay $ 20 million old construction debt and increase endowment reserves by $ 10 million. .

I recently came across a full article in the DePaul Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law [Vol. XXII: 119, 2011], Heather Hope Stephens, “All In A Day’s Work: How Museums May Approach Deaccessioning As A Necessary Collections Management Tool”, p. 178: “Objects may be transferred … as long as the ultimate reason for the transfer conforms to generally accepted museum professional standards …, aims to enhance the museum’s collection, and adheres to the museum’s mission.” Delaware Art Museum’s sale of its valuable works of art does not meet any of these criteria.

Alright, I’m sure the trustees still believe, but the only alternative to a $ 30 million art sale is to shut down the museum and disperse its vast collection and library elsewhere, surely an evil much worse than selling a few paintings. The trustees are savvy businessmen determined in one bold move to resolve once and for all the financial difficulties that have plagued the museum for a decade.

Yet recent financial history demonstrates that the Delaware Art Museum has already survived much worse financial stress without closing or selling works of art that have long been part of its collection. At the height of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the Museum’s reserves fell to $ 20 million as it struggled with $ 25 million in debt. At its annual meeting in 2011, the Museum announced that it had refinanced its debt until 2013 “on very favorable terms”. By the end of 2011, reserves had climbed to nearly $ 24 million and debt had been reduced to $ 21 million. The Museum negotiated a plan to repay $ 6.5 million in debt in 2014, $ 7 million in 2015, and $ 7.5 million in 2016, with no mention of the sale of works of art to do so. .

Indeed, a museum press release in July 2012 stated that “the Delaware Art Museum collection truly belongs to all Delawareans”, not to the trustees. By the end of 2012, reserves had increased another $ 1 million to $ 25 million.

A year later, at the end of 2013, reserves stood at $ 25.6 million and debt was reduced by $ 1 million to $ 20 million. Contrary to the impression created by the Trustees’ announcement that it must sell works of art from the collection to avoid the Museum’s closure in October 2014, the Museum’s audited financial statements as at December 31 indicate that “the Museum has the possibility of converting the bonds to a variable rate loan to be repaid in monthly installments at the bank rate [of 8%] until full repayment of the loan. “

On May 6, 7 and 8, Museum administrators are organizing a series of question-and-answer sessions. As supporters of the Museum, suggest that the administrators suspend their decision to sell our art, to come to an agreement among themselves to raise $ 3.5 million, to which will be added $ 3.5 million from members of the Museum and amateurs. statewide, to use the $ 7 million in proceeds to pay down debt and refinance the remaining $ 13 million in debt.

Over the past five years, the trustees have made considerable progress in dealing with the financial difficulties of the Delaware Art Museum. Of course, they can be tired of the struggle. If so, they should step down and invite others to shoulder the burden. Their alternative of selling art, I’m afraid, will really lead to the demise of one of Delaware’s great cultural institutions, as potential art donors and funding withdraw their support from an institution that has violated museum ethics, lost its accreditation, prohibited worldwide lending or borrowing of works of art for exhibition purposes, and was unable to recruit a new director of the caliber of Danielle Rice, part last August. The Detroit Institute of Arts is fighting to save its entire collection from the outside forces of creditors in a bankrupt city. Can we not save the Delaware Art Museum from the internal forces of administrators who do not promise to do the same in the face of much less financial challenge?

Dick Poole until 2013 was a non-administrator member of the Delaware Art Museum collections committee.


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