Town Meeting at Rose Art Museum
Tuesday, February 10, 6:30 p.m.
Open to the public. A town meeting to discuss recent decisions concerning the Rose.
Museums in Peril
Kimerly Rorschach, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Chairman, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern and Contemporary Art, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and
Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
The Rose Art Museum stands in a wooded corner of Brandeis University, just off a road that winds up and around the campus. It's a low-slung building, modest in scale-but for many Brandeis graduates like us who have gone on to careers in the arts, the Rose was the most significant educational experience we had.
We spent our formative years learning in the Rose. This was where an extraordinary collection kindled our passion for art and art history. This was where we decided to devote our professional lives to studying art, and to helping others feel the excitement we had discovered in these galleries.
If Brandeis stands by its mission statement, which dedicates the University to "the advancement of the humanities, arts and social, natural and physical sciences," then the Rose Art Museum is as important to the school as its library. And yet, in the past week, Brandeis first announced plans to shut down the Rose and sell its entire distinguished collection, and then shifted to saying it would transform the Rose into a "teaching gallery," from which it "may" sell "some works" over time.
As museum professionals and Brandeis alumni, we feel these contradictory statements reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the crucial role of art and art museums, not only at Brandeis but at colleges and universities
throughout the country.
University art museums foster a broad understanding of human creativity and achievement that is indispensable for a liberal education and an informed citizenry. These museums are used to educate thousands of students in virtually every topic and discipline, including medicine and law. They also serve as municipal museums, especially in smaller communities, and produce important scholarship and groundbreaking exhibitions. Since their founding, universities from Harvard to Bowdoin, from Dartmouth to Duke, from the University of Chicago to Stanford, have believed that it was essential to hold objects of significant artistic, historic and cultural value.
It follows that the art collections held at these museums -- held in trust for future generations of students, and for the public at large--must never be treated as financial assets to be liquidated as expediency and cyclical financial conditions dictate. If universities were allowed to cash in their collections at will, then every art collection in every museum would be threatened during challenging economic times. We fully understand that the current economic situation is perilous, and wrenching decisions have to be made. But by announcing this extreme measure, Brandeis University has shaken confidence in its educational mission, threatened a covenant established with thousands of donors, and set a sad and troubling example to other institutions. Knowledge must be transmitted "from generation to generation," in the words of Brandeis's mission statement. That is precisely the purpose of an art museum: to provide continuity in an ever-shifting cultural environment. We can only hope that Brandeis will now revisit its decision. If not, we all stand to lose.