Running afoul of one of the main precepts of museum collection stewardship, the Delaware Art Museum has resolved to sell up to four works from its collection to pay off debts. The museum took on bond debt to support a $32.5-million, 20,000-square-foot expansion and renovation in 2005, by Boston firm Ann Beha Architects, which, it says, led to its current financial straits. The museum says it expects the works it will offer, which it has not named, to sell for as much as $30 million, which would retire the institution’s $19.8-million bond debt and replenish its endowment.
“After detailed analysis, heavy scrutiny and the exhaustion of every reasonable alternative to relieve our bond debt, the Trustees had two agonizing choices in front of them-to either sell works of art, or to close our doors,” said Mike Miller, the museum’s CEO in a statement. “While today’s decision is certainly hard to bear, the closure of this 100-year-old museum would be, by comparison, unbearable.”
A statement from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) indicated that the group is “deeply disturbed” to learn of the unanimous vote by the museum’s board. “Selling works of art held in the public trust and using the proceeds for such purposes would represent a direct and serious violation of AAMD’s Code of Ethics and the professional standards of the museum field,” the statement said.
“This decision was made with heavy hearts, but clear minds,” said Elva Ferrari-Graham, president of the museum’s board of trustees, in a statement, which indicated that the museum has already instituted layoffs and cut funding for exhibitions.
The museum’s collection, of 12,500 objects, spans 19th- and 20th-century and contemporary art, with strengths in 19th-century American painting and Pre-Raphaelite painting. Its annual budget is $4 million, according to a museum spokesperson.