Deaccesioning in Museums: Evaluating Legal, Ethical and Practical Dilemmas

9 Collections: J. Museum & Archive Professionals. 209

13 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2013  

Elizabeth Varner

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2013

Abstract

One of the paradoxes of deaccessioning is the need to dispose of tangible cultural heritage without violating the donors’ or public’s trust. As the economy has declined, precipitating a need for museums to reevaluate and consolidate their collections, misinformation, confusion and public hostility towards deaccessioning has persisted. While practitioners and scholars have shown a great deal of interest in the ethical dilemmas inherent in deaccessioning, the need for deaccessioning and the practicalities and legalities of deaccessioning have been largely ignored.

Refuting a blanket prohibition or bias against deaccessioning, this article highlights the legal, ethical and practical considerations of deaccessioning including a list of relevant regulations and best practices. When discussing legal considerations, this article will review restrictions on disposal, authorization to deaccession, fiduciary duties implicated by deaccessioning and standing to sue. Under ethical considerations, this article will analyze relevant provisions from the AAM, AAMD, AASLH and ICOM regarding ethical considerations as well as highlight key issues in the debate. Finally, this article will list the best practices for deaccessioning including the importance of unrestricted title to the work before sale, proper authority to approve deaccessioning, documentation needed, appropriate method, notification to donor and the use of proceeds.

Keywords: art, cultural heritage, cultural property, artifacts, AAM AAMD, AASLH, ICOM, deaccession, accession, deaccessioning, UCC, title, ethics, auction, museum, gallery

Suggested Citation

Varner, Elizabeth, Deaccesioning in Museums: Evaluating Legal, Ethical and Practical Dilemmas (June 1, 2013). 9 Collections: J. Museum & Archive Professionals. 209 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2174071

Elizabeth Varner (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

United States

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