We previously reported on La Salle University’s decision to sell off most of their important works of art (46 in all) for ‘financial reasons’ … these stories are becoming all too familiar. According to Stephan Salisbury’s article in The Inquirer it appears that the AGO is looking into the matter: Joe Grace, spokesman for Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, said Thursday that “the office of attorney general is reviewing the sale.” It is amazing how these ‘reviews’ seem to happen during the final hours, since the sale of some works is scheduled for mid April … a few weeks away.
Salisbury goes on to report that in a March 15 response to a petition opposing the sale signed by more than 300 La Salle alumni, Hanycz and Stephen T. Zarrilli, head of Safeguard Scientifics and chair of the university’s board of trustees, said the decision to sell was final and irreversible.
“The decision by the university’s board of trustees … to deaccession these artworks was made after many months of careful study and a thorough review of alternative options,” Hanycz and Zarrilli wrote. “We are confident this decision is the right one for La Salle and its students, and as such, the trustees’ decision will not be reversed.”
Now, if the money was going to be used for future acquisitions and conservation of other works, maybe we could understand the decision; but as Salisbury points out, that is not the case: according to several members of the faculty, many of whom would speak only anonymously for fear of university retaliation, the deaccession funds would primarily go to defray capital costs for a makeover of the university library, including the creation of a new coffee bar, gym facility, and possibly a bookstore. University administrators have also started talking about deferred maintenance – but not for the art museum.
At a student forum in January, Hanycz said that no money would be used to repair the museum or upgrade its climate systems – whose poor condition she cited as a factor in the university’s decision to sell the apparently endangered art. Really! You are not going to repair the museum; but will build a coffee bar and new bookstore? Look, your students to go online to buy their books and stop at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks for their coffee.
In addition, it appears that the trustees are violating the museum’s collections policy which …spells out criteria for deaccessioning – sales, in museum parlance – and specifically calls for funds realized from such sales “be directed toward new acquisitions and artwork conservation.”
It is truly sad that trustees at some of our institutions are looking at their art collection as a rainy day fund. Remember that once the works are sold there is not getting them back … and I doubt and new donations will be coming your way. That rainy day fund of yours will be all dried up. I wonder what you will sell next time?
There isn’t much time for the AGO to prevent another shameful act of museum collection vandalism!