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Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. Photo: Wikipedia.

Museum Association Eases Rules on How Institutions Can Use Funds Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

As art museum directors across the United States are forced to make tough decisions regarding layoffs and how to address declining revenues during shutdowns due to the novel coronavirus, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has suspended penalties and relaxed its guidelines on how institutions may use restricted funds.

The leading professional industry organization, which has 227 members, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced on Wednesday that it passed a series of resolutions that will allow museums greater financial flexibility as they brace for an economic downturn.

“This is a crisis without precedent in our lifetime, with global implications and with a timeline that unfolds as we live it,” said Brent Benjamin, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “Since planning for the future with any accuracy is impossible, while earned revenue has stopped and the future of charitable giving is unknown, it was important for AAMD to take a step that could provide some additional financial support to art museums.”

The resolutions state that AAMD will refrain from censuring or sanctioning any museum—or censuring, suspending, or expelling any museum director—that decides to use income from restricted endowment funds, trusts, or donations for general operating expenses, including staff compensation and benefits. They also outline how a museum might use the proceeds from deaccessioned art to pay for expenses associated with the direct care of collections, but encouraged museums to consult with the donors or trustees of restricted funds.

AAMD stressed that its professional practices and rules about the use of funding have not changed—including its long-standing principle that the proceeds from deaccessioned art may not be used for general operating expenses—and that it has only temporarily lifted punitive actions through April 10, 2022. It said that it hopes the move will prevent any repercussions from donors or the legal authorities, but emphasized that any decisions regarding funds must meet the applicable legal requirements for their jurisdiction.

Commenting on the resolutions, Christine Anagnos, executive director of AAMD, said: “We recognize the severity of the current crisis and the immediate financial needs of many institutions. At the same time, whether it is the principal of an endowment or the art that comprises a museum’s collection, we need to protect important assets for future use. These resolutions strike a balance between addressing near-term needs and our long-held values, and we expect that any institution that exercises these options will do so in good faith.”

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