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STATEMENT CONCERNING THE DEACCESSION OF WORKS OF ART

Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on November 3, 1973; reaffirmed on June 17, 1991; revised on October 27, 2013.

Introduction

The mission of the College Art Association (CAA) is to promote the visual arts and their understanding through committed practice and intellectual engagement. In pursuit of this mission and in accordance with its by-laws, CAA encourages the highest standards of creativity, scholarship, connoisseurship, and teaching in the areas of studio art, the history and criticism of the visual arts and architecture, and exhibitions; and it furthers these objectives in institutions of higher learning and of public service such as colleges, universities, art schools, museums, and other arts organizations.

CAA acknowledges and develops fundamental, mutual interests between museums and other academic institutions. In particular, it encourages curators, librarians, collectors, dealers, public officials, and all others entrusted with the custody of works of art or documents associated with works of art to make these available for study to scholars, artists, students, and the public.

In relation to these purposes, CAA examines the policies of institutions of higher learning and public service as outlined above with regard to the arts and will lend or withhold its support wherever its basic interests are involved. To guide and support this effort, CAA develops, disseminates, and, where appropriate, implements standards, guidelines, and statements of policy regarding the activities of such institutions and entities. This statement addresses the deaccession of works of art from the collections of museums or other institutions or entities that function as public trusts.

Terminology

A “deaccession” of a work of art is understood to be the permanent physical removal of a work from, and relinquishment of its ownership by a museum or other institution or entity that had formally accessioned said work. The deaccession may be for the purposes of sale, exchange, or other type of disposal.

A “public trust” is understood to be a museum, educational institution, or other entity that was established as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt entity and, consistent with that status, is obligated to serve the public interest. Some permanent collections, such as university or municipal museums, may be in the possession of entities that reside within a parent organization that is considered a public trust. With reference to works of art, CAA interprets the public’s interest to include the expectation that the trustees or directors and professional staff of public trusts will preserve and make available for study such works in perpetuity.

Best Practice Recommendations

  1. A public trust’s collections occasionally may be strengthened by the wise and constructive deaccession of previously accessioned works of art. The deaccession of such works must be guided by the following policies:
    1. Deaccessions may be made only for the purposes of future acquisitions. Deaccessions may be accomplished through sale, exchange, or donation with another public trust, repatriation, physical destruction, return to the donor, or any combination thereof. If a work is sold, the resulting income may be used to establish an acquisitions endowment or expendable-fund account for future art acquisitions; it may not be used to support costs such as operating expenses or building funds of the public trust.
    2. Deaccessions may only be made after the establishment of a comprehensive collection development plan. Deaccessions must be justified by showing why such works are not relevant to the collection development plan, and they should only result from systematic assessments of entire collections.
    3. Deaccessions should never be prompted by changes in taste, art market fluctuations, or expressions of interest from institutional or individual collectors.
    4. Deaccessions must conform, whenever applicable, to the wishes of the donor(s) of the works or funds with which the works were acquired.
    5. Planned deaccessions must be publicized in appropriate local and/or regional media outlets and announced to local and/or regional peer public trusts in order to give the latter an opportunity to acquire the work(s) in question so they may be retained in that locality or region. After a deaccession is completed, it should be announced in an appropriate publication of the public trust deaccessioning the work.
    6. If a work is to be deaccessioned for the purposes of direct sale, sale by auction, or by exchange with another entity, the estimated value of the work should be determined prior to the ensuing transaction by a qualified third-party appraiser, i.e., an appraiser not affiliated with any of the entities participating in the sale, auction, or exchange.
    7. All preparations for and transactions associated with deaccessions must be fully documented and accessible for public scrutiny to prevent the occurrence of, or appearance of, conflicts of interest among any officials or others associated with the deaccession.
    8. After a public trust deaccessions a work, it continues to remain responsible for preserving information collected in relation to the work—including information about its provenance, accession, display, publication, loan, preservation, and disposition—for  future scholarly research. A record of this information should remain in collection files and/or databases, and this information should be made available for qualified scholars upon request.
    9. The governing body of a public trust, i.e., its board of directors or trustees, is ultimately responsible for deaccessions from collections that it oversees. That body may delegate to members of the organization’s professional staff the authority to deaccession works. However, each person participating in deaccession decisions, regardless of her or his position within an organization’s governance or management structure, is responsible for assuring that deaccessions are conducted in accordance with these policies.
    10. The president and executive director of CAA, upon notification of a potential or alleged violation of these policies, are empowered to inquire into the matter and furnish to the appropriate officials of the public trust CAA’s policies on deaccessions. If a public trust is found to be in violation of these policies, CAA’s president and executive director may recommend that CAA’s Board of Directors publicly issue a letter to the public trust.
  2. The determination of whether or not a given work of art should be deaccessioned may require consultations with outside experts or others, including art historians, museum professionals, conservators, art dealers, or artists (in the case of works by living artists). In each instance, and especially if dealers, galleries, auction houses, or any other entity that is a business  concerned with purchasing and selling art, are consulted, such consultations should be documented so as to avoid the occurrence of, or appearance of, conflicts of interest.
  3. Deaccessions of works by living artists, or artists whose heirs or estate trustees retain interests in such works, may require special care in this context. Public trusts should make every reasonable effort to contact the artist, heirs, or estate trustees early in any discussion of possible deaccessions. In countries or states where there are laws addressing artists’ rights concerning their works or royalties associated with such works, public trusts must make every effort to comply with those laws.
  4. The need for and frequency of deaccessions may be minimized by the development of comprehensive collection-development plans that carefully define a collection’s scope, identify areas of comparative strength and weakness, and consider the collections of other local or regional institutions whose strengths need not be duplicated. A rigorous collection development plan can thus enable the governing boards and professional staff of public trusts to decline potential acquisitions or donations of works that do not serve their long-term interests and therefore are likely to later be deaccessioned.
  5. Public trusts should not accept donations that are accompanied by conditions they cannot reasonably expect to honor. When the intent of the donor of a work identified for deaccession, or the intent of the donor of an acquisition fund with which a work identified for deaccession was purchased, is unclear or undocumented, the donor, the donor’s near relatives, or heirs should—if possible—be consulted about the deaccession. In instances when a deaccession is approved, and the deaccession yields income, the donor, near relatives, or heirs should be notified of the income; this income must be used for future acquisitions only.

Useful resources include:

  • Museum Registration Methods, 5th edition, Rebecca A. Buck and Jean Allman Gilmore, eds. (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums Press, 2010)

Revised by Jeffrey Abt, Wayne State University, with the advice and approval of the 2013 Museum Committee.

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