A Statement from NEMA on the Situation at the Berkshire Museum Regarding Professional Standards
Approved by the Board of Directors, August 18, 2017

The recent actions of the Berkshire Museum, and the reaction to them, demonstrate that there is a wide range of opinion in the museum field when it comes to the applicability of professional standards, especially those concerning deaccessioning.

NEMA strongly supports professional standards, which ensure that all museums maintain a high level of confidence with their visitors, communities, and donors who generously support museums with their funds and collections, expecting these to be held in the public trust. NEMA urges museums to uphold professional standards to the best of their ability and seek excellence in all they do.

We also acknowledge the difficult decisions that some museums face when in financial distress, leading them to breach our field’s standards in order to survive, which the Berkshire Museum acknowledges having done. Since NEMA’s mission is to connect museum people and empower museums to sustain themselves as essential to their communities, it is not our role to censure the museum’s staff and trustees, but rather to open meaningful conversation and help find solutions. The question, in our opinion, is not only how to convince museums to comply with standards in matters such as deaccessioning, but how to find solutions that will help our struggling institutions and colleagues survive and thrive before situations reach a crisis point.

To this end, NEMA is committed to fostering dialogue and using the creative power of our professional community to advance conversation about the evolving role of museum collections held in the public trust, define the role of standards in a rapidly-changing museum community, and suggest realistic options that aid museums as they face significant challenges.

On October 27, at our upcoming conference in Falmouth, Massachusetts, we are planning a special “Think Tank” session to examine the issue of collections and ethical standards, fiduciary responsibilities, and the public trust. Ideas and approaches proposed there will be compiled and published in the December issue of our journal, New England Museums Now, with a follow-up conversation online in our January Lunch with NEMA, on January 31, 2018. We encourage you to participate in the Think Tank session or, if you can’t make it to conference, lend your voice by commenting on the journal article, participating in the January Lunch with NEMA, or contacting the NEMA office. Our hope is that this call to action will help unite the field behind our shared interest in strengthening museums and safeguarding collections.

Sincerely,
The Board and Staff of the New England Museum Association*

 

*Note: as a point of disclosure, NEMA board member Mark Gold is attorney for the Berkshire Museum and has recused himself from deliberation and vote on this statement.

 

Please contact the NEMA office with any comments, concerns, or ideas at nema@nemanet.org.