Met to Pay Staff Salaries with Funds from Deaccessioned Works
March 10, 2021
Just a month after raising hackles with its announcement that it was considering selling off some of its rarely or never-seen works to offset its budget gap, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has said it has temporarily approved the use of funds raised via deaccessioning to pay its workers’ salaries. In doing so, it follows a precedent established by the Brooklyn Museum and other US institutions that have taken advantage of the new Covid-era guidelines established by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).
According to the new rules, in effect for two years beginning last April, museums may use funds gained through deaccessioning to pay for the care of their collections; typically, money generated by sales of art can only be used to buy other works. Though the relaxed rule is meant to keep afloat institutions whose coffers have been decimated by the pandemic, those using it to their benefit have been met with an outcry from critics who are concerned the practice will discourage donors, who might fear their works will be sold at the first sign of a crisis. Critics additionally worry that the less-stringent policy marks the first step toward museums treating works as assets to be monetized. The Baltimore Museum of Art in October canceled a $65 million deaccessioning sale at the last minute after losing a $50 million planned gift over the sale, and facing outrage on the part of the public and some of its board members.
The Met, which has a $3.3 million endowment, reduced its staff by 20 percent in the wake of the pandemic and is facing a $150 million budget shortfall. Its former director, Thomas Campbell, penned an op-ed condemning the practice, even if it is used temporarily. A Change.org petition calling for the Met not to sell its art and delivered to the institution March 8 garnered twenty-five thousand signatures. Speaking with the Washington Post, however, director Max Hollein sounded sanguine. “It’s not as if crazy things are happening,” he said.