The Wall Street Journal looks at the donor intent aspect of museum management by focusing on the novel interpretation provided by a judge that is allowing the Cleveland Museum to continue with its plans to complete a major expansion despite the evaporation of funds:
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), a professional oversight body, prohibits museums from selling works of art—”deaccessioning”—for any purpose other than purchasing other works of art. But it has (so far) no prohibition against raiding a restricted acquisitions trust for nonart purposes. Presumably it believes museums will honor donor intent as a matter of course.
The Cleveland Museum, though, doesn’t see its actions as violating its donors’ wishes. On the contrary, it cites precedent: In 1955, when the museum ran short of funds for an expansion, it received permission from a judge to use money from restricted acquisitions endowments to pay the bills.
Back then, Judge Donald F. Lybarger, in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, not only approved that use but took the expansive view that the donors to the acquisition fund, all of them deceased, would have supported his decision had they still been alive. Judge Lybarger’s reasoning went something like this: The donors provided money for the purchase of art so that the Cleveland Museum could become and remain a great institution. If it cannot expand, then it cannot do this. It is currently unable to expand for want of money; therefore, the deceased donors would not object to their funds being used for purposes other than the acquisition of art if doing so would help realize the larger goal of ensuring the museum’s greatness.
Ghost in the Museum (Wall Street Journal)