Shelly Banjo in the Wall Street Journal reveals the museum world’s version of a bailout, dumping financially toubled collections upon financially over-burdened universities. Of course, this ought to add a new wrinkle to the de-accessioning debate. Would you prefer that a public university use its limited funds to educated students or maintain an art collection that’s been dumped upon it?
Tottering under years of deficits, accumulated debt and declining donations, several of the country’s small and medium-size museums have been turning to the art-world equivalent of a bailout. They are partnering with a university or other academic institution, in some cases handing over artworks and changing locations, in a last-ditch effort to keep their doors open and their collections intact and available to the public. […] Museums’ financial strain follows years of ambitious expansions, large executive pay packages and far-reaching real-estate investments undertaken during the real-estate boom. Many museums took on debt to finance these activities—only to have the floor fall out from under their endowments in 2008 when the market crashed. […] Financial emergencies represent especially difficult dilemmas for museum donors. If they continue to write checks to keep a museum afloat, the museum might fail anyway. If they support a partnership or change-in-control, it might infringe on the institution’s unique character. Donors also worry about the financial health of their rescuers: Many universities are struggling with the same funding cuts, shrinking endowments and slowdown in private contributions that afflict museums.
Hit by the Downturn, Museums Seek Bailouts (Wall Street Journal)