Art, Art Museums

Museum Acquisition Funds: How the Major Players Continue to Grow Their Collections in Lean Times

Cultural journalist Judith H. Dobrzynski recently reported in The New York Times on the shocking state of the acquisition funds of America’s major museums:

A late 13th-century carved Chinese lacquer box recently purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Although acquiring art is a core mission, private collectors donate 80 to 90 percent of what is on view in American art museums. Fewer than two dozen museums have sizable nest eggs to buy the art they choose.

A few more, notably the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, are wealthy enough to buy steadily by drawing on unrestricted endowments, but have no special funds for acquisitions. Most of the time, when art museums find an object they desire, “we find someone who’s willing to support that acquisition,” said Dan L. Monroe, director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

In lean times like these, when museums are budgeting to the razor’s edge, those with pools for art purchases enjoy a distinct advantage — they are not permitted to use the money, usually about 5 percent of the principal each year, for anything but buying art.

“It ensures that the collection will continue to grow,” said Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It’s always tempting to use your money for the activity of the day and to postpone acquisitions. But acquisitions are not postpone-able — they are a matter of opportunity.”

The article goes on to provide the following chart of acquisition endowments of major US art museums:

Read the entire article here.

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