posted by Christopher Howard
The Accreditation Commission of the American Association of Museums (AAM) approved revisions to its 2005 policy “Statements of Support from Parent Organizations” at its March 2010 meeting.
Why Did It Change?
The impetus was a request from a task force formed in 2009, which included Linda Downs, CAA executive director, to focus on the issue of protecting academic collections. The Task Force on University and College Museums, of which AAM is a member, was organized in response to the disturbing trend of selling collections from academic museums as a short-sighted response to the current economic downturn (e.g., the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the Maier Museum at Randolph College, and the Fisk University Galleries). Of course, the threat of a parent organization treating collections as disposable assets, or the undervaluing of the museum and its collections as essential intellectual and educational resources, is not limited to college and university museums.
The purpose of the policy since it debuted in 2005 is to give the Accreditation Commission some assurance of the sustainability and longevity of an institution that is not autonomous. Museums, in turn, have found that the commission’s policy—and the conversations that surround the need to secure the appropriate documentation—helps strengthen their presence and articulate their essential role within their parent organization. The policy also serves as an opportunity to educate the parent organization’s leadership about museum standards and ethics. The expanded language in the document will support museums in this regard as well as offer to them greater protection from threats to their tangible and intangible assets held in the public trust.
To whom the policy applies (see below) and the basic requirement of evidence of support did not change. The Accreditation Commission added new language to the policy emphasizing:
- the role, value, and use of collections
- ethics and standards regarding collections
- specific language that stresses that a museum’s collections should not be considered as disposable assets by a parent organization
When you access the policy online, you will see the new language indicated in red.
Is My Museum Affected?
The policy may not apply to your museum, but it is important for you to know about the nature of the changes.
The policy applies to your museum if it operates within a larger parent organization, such as: college or university; tribal, municipal, state, or federal government; state historical society supervising multiple sites; corporate foundation, etc. A museum that has a parent organization relies on that parent for some or all of its human, physical, and/or financial resources. Approximately 37 percent of all accredited museums operate within a parent organization. Over 40 percent of this subgroup is part of a college or university.
If you have any questions or comments about the new policy and how it affects your museum, please contact the Accreditation Program staff.
Director, Illinois State Museum and Accreditation Commission Chair
Director, Georgia Museum of Art, Accreditation Commissioner, and Member of the Task Force on University and College Museums
Senior Director of Museum Standards and Excellence, American Association of Museums
May 17 Update: Lee Rosenbaum reported on the “Statements of Support from Parent Organizations” in her ArtsJournal blog, Culturegrrl.