Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deliberating Deaccession

Posted by Senator José M. Serrano

Although I am a frequent
blogger, this is actually my first time delving into the guest-blog-stratosphere, and I am honored to do so on the MANY website. As the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, I am focused on exploring ways the State Legislature can best support and promote the tremendous cultural and natural assets within the State of New York.

Of course, this is not an easy time to be a proponent of arts and culture. On the one hand, the State is facing a massive fiscal crisis with looming budget cuts across the State. On the other hand, we know that New York’s creative sector will play a vital role in our economic recovery.

Cultural institutions, such as museums, make an enormous contribution to the State economy by stimulating tourist activity, creating jobs, utilizing other local businesses and generating tax revenue. In other words, it makes good financial sense to support the arts in New York. Not to mention, the contribution that the arts make to our quality of life and the health of our society which is immeasurable. This isn’t just political rhetoric, if you take a look at my legislative grants (AKA member items) you can see how serious I am about supporting the arts. Not only did I provide funding for a variety of art organizations, but I also took the unprecedented step of allocating $250,000 to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) for grant-making purposes.

Museums throughout the state are grappling with enormous financial problems. Unfortunately, Museums are being forced to lay off staff and manage their collections, buildings and programs with fewer resources. In some instances, museums and other cultural institutions have been driven to consider deaccessioning and then sell collection items to raise needed funds. No matter how few times this has happened, I am deeply concerned about the effect this could have on the long-term health of our cultural institutions and what this means for the cultural heritage of our state.

I recently convened a
committee meeting to discuss legislation (S.4584/A.6959) related to museum “deaccessioning” that I have introduced (along with co-sponsoring Senators Hassell-Thompson, Little, Montgomery, Morahan, and Schneiderman). To help us understand the intricacies of the bill, the committee was joined by Assembly sponsors, Assembly members Brodsky and Titone. Representatives from the Museum Association of New York, Everson Museum, Hudson River Museum, and the New York State Museum were on hand to offer their perspective on the fiscal crisis facing museums and the proposed legislation. All of our guests did a phenomenal job helping us to hash out the particulars of the bill. As a result, my colleagues and I have identified several flaws in the bill and are diligently working on some necessary revisions.

The fiscal crisis may be temporary, but the long term effects of unfettered deaccessioning will be long lasting. This legislation will place some necessary limits on deaccessioning without being overly restrictive. While changes to the bill are in the works, the essential goal of the bill will remain the same---help us maintain the cultural heritage of the State of New York in a time of deep fiscal crisis.

Just as I was able to work with the museum community on the issue of deaccessioning, I look forward to working closely with all members of the museum community on future issues. Together we can ensure New York remains the premier cultural destination in the world.

Photo: Statue sunbathing in the new Greek/Roman room at the Met by ext212, flickr

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