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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

New legal interpretations for Rose Art surface

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: Front Page

When the university’s Board of Trustees’ authorized the closing of the Rose Art Museum and the sale its 7,183 piece collection, one of the first questions raised by the Brandeis and art world was the legality of the university selling the museum’s art for the university’s profit. 

Since the authorization broke to the media on Jan. 26, there have been many different interpretations concerning the issue of legality—however, Provost Marty Krauss’ e-mail announcement of the reopening of the Rose after a three-month hiatus in July has opened a whole new can of debate.

While at first it was thought that the museum must close in order for the university to profit from the sale of its art, according to Meryl Rose, a member of the Rose family, the conditions under which the money to build the museum was given prohibit the university from using the building as anything other than a public museum.

“In Edward Rose’s will he specifically states that the money must go toward a public art museum at Brandeis, that it must be the only museum on campus, and that while there can be ancillary buildings for student art centers at Brandeis, the Rose building cannot be used for that purpose,” Rose told The Hoot in a phone interview.  “The Rose building must remain a public museum.”

This initial misunderstanding about the donation of the museum building itself can be traced to the fact that no member of the university administration attempted to look at the museum’s gift records prior to the initial authorization, Museum Registrar Valerie Wright told The Hoot in February.

Since the initial decision, the administration has begun reviewing the documents relating to the Rose, which resulted in the discovery of Edward Rose’ will.

Krauss’ e-mail announcement of the reopening of the Rose described an interim conditions under which the Rose will re-open on July 22 which are that the Rose will exhibit artwork from its permanent collection; that three out of six members of the Rose staff will stay on; and that the Rose staff will be without a Museum Director or Educational director.

            A statement on the Rose Musem’s website calls this interim existence of the museum as laid out by Krauss has been called “the bare bones protection of the museum” by Brandeis in reaction to pressure from the Massachusetts State Attorney General’s office.

Spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office Emily LaGrassa told The Hoot that Krauss decided to e-mail the community about the interim state of the Rose after “we were alerted by members of the museum’s Board of Overseers who were worried that the university was moving forward with the closing of the museum.”

LaGrassa said that upon hearing the Overseer’s concerns, the Attorney General’s office asked the university what their plans were and was informed that a draft of Krauss’ e-mail was being written. 

The Attorney General’s office did read over the e-mail before it was sent out.

As far as concerns over the sale of art, LaGrassa said that in the event that once the university has decided to sell a specific work of art, the Attorney General’s office would have to review the sale and determine if it was allowed under the conditions that it was given to the museum.

While selling the museum’s art for the profit of the university is considered unethical by the American Association of Museums, it is not illegal as long as the art is not a restricted donation because while the Rose is self-funded, it is affiliated with the university and is not a separate 501C3, John Lee, Chair of the Museum’s Board of Overseers told The Hoot in a phone interview.

“The Board of Overseers is not a fiduciary board,” he explained.

Provost Krauss, who made the decisions regarding the interim state of the museum, would not comment on the allegation that the decision surrounding the conditions of the museum are simply a way to placate the Attorney General.

Meryl Rose told The Hoot that the university administration is “trying to do everything they can to make this happen quietly.”

“They want us to go away, but we aren’t going anywhere” she said.

 According to Rose, there are “a number” of donors to the museum who are considering taking legal action against the university regardless of whether or not their gifts had restrictions on them.

“There are people who donated art and money to the museum under the understandable assumption that their donations would be to the museum, not the university,” she said.  “Now that the university is doing this, people want their gifts back.”

“A museum is bound by certain ethical standards that donors expect to be held,” Rose continued.  “You do not sell art—pieces of our culture—to mend a shortfall in other areas. What they are doing is hideous.”