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New York Relaxes Restrictions On Museum Deaccessions

Emergency rules for deaccessions by museums in New York state, set in late 2008 by the New York State Board of Regents, which oversees museums and other educational institutions within the state, are being allowed to expire, effective Oct. 8.

NEW YORK—Emergency rules for deaccessions by museums in New York state, set in late 2008 by the New York State Board of Regents, which oversees museums and other educational institutions within the state, are being allowed to expire, effective Oct. 8.

“We have reverted to the strictures for museum deaccessions that were in place in December of 2008,” a spokesperson for the Board of Regents said. Those older guidelines still require that “proceeds derived from the deaccessioning of any property from [an] institution’s collection be restricted in a separate fund to be used only for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care of collections.” None of those funds can be used for operating expenses, although the costs of conservation is not disallowed, and there are no provisions governing to whom a museum may sell an object from its collection.

The rules were implemented in late 2008, and came in response to requests from arts institutions for “specific criteria and guidance relating to deaccessioning and use of collections proceeds” in the wake of the economic downturn, according to a report released by the Cultural Education Committee of the New York State Education Department on Aug. 26th. Those guidelines, which were of a temporary nature, permitted institutions to sell objects from their permanent collections only in cases where the item is not relevant to the mission of the museum, has been lost or stolen or has lost its attribution, is duplicative of other materials in the collection, or if the institution is unable to take care of the item properly.

Many of those provisions became part of a bill introduced into the New York State legislature by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky in 2009 and cosponsored in the state senate by José Serrano. Officials of a number of cultural organizations in the state, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the International Center for Photog­raphy, the Jewish Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Whitney Museum of American Art, called the legislation unnecessary and said they found some of its provisions burdensome. In a June 2009 letter to Brodsky and Serrano, 13 institutions asked that the legislation be deferred and revised.

Brodsky reacted angrily to the Regents’ decision to allow the regulations to lapse, declaring that “what the Board of Regents has done is give every museum board of directors in the state a roadmap to how to avoid the standards and best practices that the museum community has established. It was those best practices that the emergency regulations looked to codify.”

In a statement, New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner said that “there was no consensus on the efficacy of those emergency regulations. Consequently, those regulations will be allowed to expire, allowing the prior regulations regarding museum collections to once again take effect.” He added that the state agency is developing a Museum Advisory Group to “inform the Regents’ future decision-making on collections and other matters pertaining to museums in New York.”

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