posted by Christopher Howard
The board of overseers at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University released a statement yesterday, found here and here, to counter provost Marty Wyngaarden Krauss’s missive from last week about keeping the building open to art exhibitions beyond this summer. Since late January, when the university first announced plans to close the museum and sell its collections, the school administration has backpedaled several times, claiming to transform the museum into an art study and exhibition center (which it already is), to not sell the entire collection, and to continue hosting exhibitions. To which the board responds:
In her letter, Krauss attempted to clarify future plans for the Rose Art Museum once the University closes it on June 30, 2009. Despite the existence of the current Board of Overseers for the museum, Brandeis has named a new committee to “explore future options for the Rose.” In addition, the current position of museum director will be eliminated. According to Jon Lee, chair of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Overseers, “Without a director or curator, the Rose cannot continue to function as a museum under any meaningful definition. Since the University’s announcement on January 26, 2009 that it would close the museum, membership and Rose Overseer dues, and all donations have ceased or been asked to be returned. This amounts to more than $2.5 million.”
“When the Rose family originally founded the Rose Art Museum, they were very clear about its mission and the integral role it would play as a part of the Brandeis community,” said Meryl Rose, a member of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Overseers and a relative to the original museum founders. “A museum with a collection and reputation such as the Rose needs a director, and while Krauss’s letter states that the collection will be cared for, it does not erase the fact that the Rose as we know it will cease to exist under the administration’s current plans. The administration is carrying out an elaborate charade, the first step of which is to turn the Rose from a true museum as its founders intended, into something quite different….”
So long as the Rose remains open as a museum, it remains subject to the ethical guidelines of American museum groups that do what they can to discourage the kind of emergency sales that Brandeis is contemplating. But I spoke later with Michael Rush, the director of the Rose, who will soon be gone, along with several other significant Rose staffers. He was skeptical about what the university was doing. “They’re talking about keeping the Rose open,” he said. “But there’s no director, no curator, no education director, no funding stream and no program.”
An update to Lacayo’s report is a message from Jon Lee, Rose board chairman, which notes that Massachusett’s Attorney General office is watching developments closely. Relatedly, Art in America has published an interview with Meryl Rose, in which potential legal action is briefly discussed.
The situation at Brandeis is one of many taking place concerning unusual uses of restricted endowments and related funding. In his article “New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel,” John Hechinger of the Wall Street Journal writes, “As schools struggle more than they have in decades to fund their core operations, many are looking to a rich pool of so-called restricted gifts—held in endowments whose donors often provide firm instructions on how their money should be spent.”