Monday, July 27, 2009

Rose overseers sue to preserve museum, stop sale of art

If museum can’t be saved, they say give art to new Rose Preservation Fund

Three overseers of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum filed a suit today aiming to force the school to not sell the museum’s treasured collection, and to keep the museum open and functioning as it was until administrators announced plans to close it in January. If that cannot be done, they ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to seize the Rose’s collection and endowments from Brandeis and put it in the hands of the overseers’ newly formed nonprofit Rose Preservation Fund for continued “public art museum use.”

The suit (read it here) claims that Rose artwork that “will start to be sold by or before the fall of this year.” It adds that “In the last few weeks, Brandeis has greatly accelerated the process of getting works of art ready for sale,” but provides no supporting evidence.

“We believe that this lawsuit is frivolous and without merit,” says a statement by the attorney (and former Massachusetts attorney general) representing Brandeis, Thomas F. Reilly of Cooley Manion, and Jones, which was provided to The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research by a spokesman for the university.

“We could have walked away, but all of us have a psychological investment in the place,” Jonathan Lee of Brookline, one of three filing the suit tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. His mother, Mildred Schiff Lee, who died in May, donated more than 500 artworks to the Rose. The family has also made significant financial contributions to the Rose. “This is a values question and it’s a public values question. We think what the Brandeis Administration is doing is patently wrong.”

Brandeis administrators announced Jan. 26 that they would shutter the museum and sell off the more than 6,000 works in its collection. The decision was described by the school “as part of a campus-wide effort to preserve the university’s educational mission in the face of the historic economic recession and financial crisis.” The announcement provoked international condemnation. Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz and other school administrators have since softened their rhetoric, but not explicitly contradicted their initial announcement.

For many Rose supporters, the museum, as it had operated since it opened in 1961, died when its spring exhibitions closed on May 17. At the end of June most of its staff left, either fired like director Michael Rush, or not wishing to stay on. A skeleton crew of two – including Roy Dawes, the Rose’s assistant director of operations for six years, who has become the head of the museum as director of museum operations – reopened the museum with an exhibition of works from the collection on July 22.

Lee, Meryl Rose of Swampscott and Lois Foster of Boston filed the 12-page suit (plus 142 pages of supporting materials) against Brandeis in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. They seek a court order prohibiting Brandeis from closing the Rose, selling any of its artwork (“except in its normal course of the museum’s operation and pursuant to American museum ethical codes and guidelines – that is, for the purpose of purchasing new artwork”) or using any of the Rose endowments “for any purpose other than the continued benefit of the Rose Art Museum.”

Lee says Brandeis administrators see sales from the Rose collection “as portfolio balancing.” The suit charges that the transformation of the museum’s operations and sale of its collection would violate the understanding Rose donors had that they were giving to a permanent, public art museum. Lee argues that if Brandeis is allowed to go forward it will threaten the system of donations that supports all museums as well as Massachusetts’s great universities, hospitals and other nonprofits.

Brandeis leaders, the suit alleges, have tried to pack the Rose’s board of overseers to get their way:
“In late June 2009, Brandeis’s real plan became obvious, namely, to change the make-up of the overseers, packing it with new members friendly to Brandeis’s administration, to convince those members of the overseers with whom the president had strong personal relationships to give up their opposition, to threaten to sell off some donors’ artwork while protecting the donations of others, and to arm-twist in order to try to remove any opposition to Brandeis’s plan to sell off valuable artwork.”
According to the suit, Lee, Rose and Foster lean toward having the court seize the Rose collection and endowments from Brandeis and turn them over to their new nonprofit or another appropriate organization that could fulfill the intent of Rose donors:
“Continuation of the collection and the public art museum, including its endowments, under Brandeis’s aegis has become impracticable. Because it has so often stated its unwillingness to continue ‘in the public art business,’ the plaintiffs have formed a non-profit corporation called the Rose Preservation Fund, Inc., … for the purpose of preserving the museum’s collection for public art museum use, operated under the appropriate ethical guidelines and codes of conduct.”
On Brandeis’s behalf, attorney Reilly writes:
“Like every other major University in the country, Brandeis has taken aggressive steps to protect its core educational mission, which means providing its students with a first class education and ensuring that Brandeis continues to provide financial assistance to needy students. The debate here does highlight a difference between Brandeis and these three Rose overseers. That is, that the university has a responsibility to provide the very best education and faculty to fulfill its higher educational agenda. Apparently, these three overseers are oblivious to the Brandeis mission.

“The Rose Art Museum is a part of Brandeis University and represents four tenths of one percent of the university budget. Their endowment is part of the Brandeis endowment, its presence is on the Brandeis campus, and its major fundraising over the past dozen years has been done by the Brandeis president.

“We look forward to aggressively defending our position in court.”

Dec. 23: Rose freezes curator search
Jan. 26: Brandeis to close Rose
Jan. 27: Update: Brandeis to close Rose, sell art
Jan. 27: Brandeis president’s e-mail on Rose
Jan. 27: Brandeis’s money
Jan. 27: AG on Brandeis's plans
Jan. 29: Brandeis’s liquidator-in-chief
Jan. 29: The first painting Brandeis should pawn
Jan. 29: Question: Brandeis financial management?
Feb. 5: Brandeis won’t close Rose?
Feb. 5: Will defunct Rose replace defunct Safra Center plan?
Feb. 9: Open discussion at the Rose tomorrow
Feb. 11: How do you solve Brandeis’s budget crisis?
March 16: Rose family objects to closing Rose museum
March 16: What is the Rose family saying?
May 15: The end of the Rose?
May 20: Voices from the Rose.
May 20: Rose collection treasures.


Anonymous Sarah Cortell said...

Do you have a link for the copy of the law suit?


July 29, 2009 at 5:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home