Until recently, the ban on selling collections items as a method of raising money for a museum was considered sacrosanct. The only time such a sale would be permissible was if items that were not as central to the museum’s mission were sold in order to purchase items that were more representative of its mission. A museum that dared violate this ethical rule was subject to sanctions by the museum community. But because of the catastrophic economic collapse that hit the United States, in April, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) made the unprecedented announcement that until April 2022, no art museum would be sanctioned by them for selling collection items in order to pay for direct expenses related to the collections.
Despite this announcement, the parameters in which an art museum can deaccession and sell works is still fairly narrow. The museum must have a policy in place that is available to the public detailed how money raised from the sale of deaccessioned art will be used. Whenever possible, the museum should reach out to the original donor. And the ban on using the proceeds for general operating expenses is still in place.
AAMD also stated that it would not sanction a museum for using restricted funds, trusts, or donations for general operations, including staff salaries and benefits. However, it rightfully noted that while they would not sanction a museum, the museum still must follow the laws and regulations of its state regarding the use of restricted funds. This may include laws regarding a deceased donor’s trust and the necessity of getting permission from the probate court to deviate from the donor’s wishes.The full statement can be found at: https://artiumamore.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/AAMD-Press-Release-Use-of-Funds-Apr-2020.pdf.