Titone Co-Sponsors Bill to Protect Museum Collections

January 14, 2010

Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) announced his co-sponsorship of a bill to protect valuable and historic collection pieces from being sold for operating cash (A.6959-A).

“We need to secure artistic, scientific and cultural treasures for our children and for generations to come,” Titone said. “I understand museums are struggling financially, but selling off precious, irreplaceable collections to the private sector should never be an option.”

The Assembly Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development Committee, which Titone is a member of, as well as the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and Assembly Libraries and Education Technology Committee, met today to discuss the proposed law, which would give more oversight over museums selling pieces and allow the public access to a list of pieces being removed from collections.

Many museums are facing tough times due to funding cuts, expansion debt, and dwindling philanthropic support, Titone said. Raising operating cash by selling items from collections is reluctantly being considered an option by museums and collecting institutions.

The bill would clarify and standardize rules for removing items from collections, called deaccessioning, and the disposal or sale of items once they have been removed. Under the legislation, the sale of collection pieces to fund operating expenses would be prohibited. The measure would require the proceeds to be used for acquisition of other items or the care and preservation of the collection. The Board of Regents would be the authoritative body for the law and was instrumental in helping to craft the legislation.

The bill requires the Board of Regents conduct a study of historic structures and buildings such as those in Historic Richmondtown, Snug Harbor, and the Conference House to determine whether these historic locations should be included in the bill and be classified as part of a “collection.”

In addition under the legislation institutions would be required to publish a register of all items in their collection and the Board of Regents would create a Web site where institutions would be required to post items they are deaccessioning, Titone said. Respected museums, like the Indianapolis Museum of Art, already voluntarily list all items for deaccession on its Web page.

Today’s roundtable discussion was attended by well over 80 historic and cultural institutions from all over New York State. Many institutions are supportive of the measure. Others claim they already comply simply because guidelines for deaccessioning are already in place from accrediting institutions such as the American Museum Association and the New York State Museum Association.

Titone however contends that the bill is necessary and can be used as a “firewall” to help protect museum directors from board members who may rush irresponsibly to sell off irreplaceable artifacts simply to offset operating costs. Titone further added, “We must always ensure that the public and future generations enjoy the enormous resources of our great state’s cultural and historic institutions.”

“New York State has some of the finest collecting institutions in the world,” Titone said. “They give the people of our state and the millions who visit annually the experience of our artistic, historical and scientific heritage. This law will help protect that heritage.”