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New Rules for Deaccessioning in New York

Betty Flood | January 18th, 2014

New rules for the de-accessioning of objects from New York collecting institutions and regulation of the use of the funds from disposed items are the highlights of legislation being sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright. The bill would require collecting institutions to adopt and publish a binding collection management policy and mission statement. Nothing in the bill would prevent institutions from changing or amending their policies, which they currently have the ability to do.

“Each collecting institution shall accession all items in its possession that are consistent with its mission statement and collection management policy. This bill emphasizes the fact that institutions are required to accession only those items that are consistent with their mission,” said Englebright.

The legislation would require collecting institutions to publish a register of all items in their collection. They would have three years to place items already in their collection on the register, and all items acquired after the effective date of this bill would be placed on the register immediately.

The legislation states that items may be deaccessioned only if certain criteria have been met: the item is inconsistent with the mission of the collecting institution; the item has failed to retain its identity; the item is redundant; the item’s preservation and conservation needs are beyond the capacity of the collecting institution to provide; the deaccession of the item refines the collection management policy; or it has been established that the item is inauthentic.

This bill directs the Board of Regents to create a Web site on which institutions would be required to post items they are deaccessioning. “Creating a Web site in which the institutions are required to post items they are deaccessioning appears in the legislation as a good move. The idea of the Web site is that when you do the deaccessioning, it should be a very self-conscious and transparent process,” said Englebright.

“Proceeds from the disposal of deaccessioned items may be used for the acquisition of another item for the collecting institution’s collection and/or for the preservation and protection of an item in the collection. Proceeds may never be used for customary operating expenses,” said Englebright.

While the bill bans the use of an item for future collateral agreement, it does not interfere with collateral agreements already in effect.

The Board of Regents will have the authority to enforce the provisions of this law. Additionally, the Board of Regents is authorized to study and report to the governor whether collecting institutions should include buildings in their collection.

“I think the bill, when it becomes law, will establish a structure for decision making that is more formalized and will enable a greater sense of self-consciousness on the part of boards of trustees of these institutions. I think that this will tend to have a stabilizing effect upon the great cultural pressures of the estate that are in the care of the institutions, and I think the trustees and the curators will take their responsibilities seriously, and the presence of the law will basically be an assistance to them,” explained Englebright.

“The state of New York has the finest collecting institutions in the world, giving the people of the state and visitors an unequaled opportunity to experience the world’s cultural, artistic, historical, natural history, and scientific heritage. These collecting institutions exist across the state, range in size from the smallest to the largest institutions in the world, and are all creatures of state government,” said Englebright, in justifying his legislation.

“Some are directly chartered by the legislature, and some by the Board of Regents, but all are subject to the public interest as set forth in law, regulation, charter requirements, and sound collecting institution practice as set forth by collecting institution associations and accreditation organizations. This legislation is intended to assure and enhance the continuing interest of collecting institutions in abiding by and protecting the public interest. It should be noted that just because an institution owns items does not mean those items are part of a collection that would be covered by this legislation. Items only become part of a collection when they are accessioned by an institution. And they are only required to be accessioned when they fulfill the mission of the institution as laid out in its mission statement.”

He continued, “There is a need for clarification and standards with respect to the ways collecting institutions acquire, hold, and dispose of property, especially property that is part of their collections. The need for such improvement in state policy and practices is of longstanding concern but has been highlighted by the recent and widely discussed increase in financial pressure on cultural institutions.

“The requirements of this bill are necessary to protect the cultural, artistic, historical, and scientific heritage of the state, and the public interest; are consistent with longstanding professional standards set forth by the collecting institution community; and are consistent with the statutory and constitutional responsibilities of the legislature and the Board of Regents.

“My bill provides a general framework of understanding that would be helpful in that those curators would know that any proceeds from sales would have to be put back into the collection rather than used for general operating support.

“What happened very often in the past, there would be some surplus activity and then the money is used up. It isn’t used to replace in a thematic way something that built the institutional purpose or the collections theme. So they would have to do that if this becomes law. I think that strengthens the hands of those who are on the curatorial side of this institution, be they trustees or be they curators. The idea of this legislation is basically saying if you have a collection, try to maintain that collection. If you refine the collection through a process of  deaccessioning, the proceeds have to go back into the collection,” said Assemblyman Englebright.

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