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Museum Directors Association Lifts Penalties on Museum Spending During Pandemic

The new resolutions do not grant institutions permission to access restricted funding sources, but museums who choose to do so will not be penalized by AAMD.

Smithsonian American Art Museum (image courtesy Tim Evanson/Flickr)

In an effort to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on museum finances, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has passed a series of resolutions de-penalizing institutions that choose to use some restricted funds, including endowments, trusts, and donations, over the next two years.

The new resolutions do not grant permission to tap into restricted assets, which are presided over by donors and different legal apparatusbut they place a moratorium on AAMD’s own sanctions on member institutions, which could include suspension and censuring of museum directors who break its guidelines.

“There is no clear timeline for the pandemic concluding, for the economy to begin growing again, and for life to return to normal,” said Brent Benjamin, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and The Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, in a statement. “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.”

Through April 2022, AAMD will not penalize any museum that decides to tap into restricted funding sources, normally unavailable for operating expenses, to address immediate needs during the crisis. These include the income (not the principal) of endowment funds or trusts held by a museum; both the income and principal from donations or trusts held by outside parties in support of a museum; and the income (not principal) from funds generated by deaccessioned works. (Since 1993, the American Alliance of Museum’s Code of Ethics dictates that proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections should not be used for needs other than acquisition or direct care of collections.)

Despite these temporary revisions, AAMD stressed the importance of protecting longstanding assets.

“We recognize the severity of the current crisis and the immediate financial needs of many institutions,” she said in the statement. “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.”

While recognizing that AAMD cannot legally lift restrictions on assets, the organizations hopes that the resolutions “will serve as an endorsement to donors or the relevant legal authorities, encouraging them to permit the temporary use of these funds for unrestricted needs.”

AAMD represents 227 museums in North America, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Guggenheim. There are an estimated 35,000 museums in the United States.

Correction 4/20/2020 10:59am EDT: MoMA PS1 is no longer a member of AAMD.

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