Monday, June 26, 2006


AAMD: A Toothless Watchdog

The Association of Art Museum Directors has quietly posted a new position position paper on its website: Good Governance and Non-Profit Integrity.

It appears to be a response to widespread concern over problematic practices such as those thought to have led to the Feb. 9 forced resignation of Barry Munitz from the presidency of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Munitz resigned while being investigated by the California attorney general's office for possible improper use of the Getty's funds and for a questionable 2002 real estate deal between the Getty and arts patron-collector Eli Broad, a Munitz friend.

Here are some excerpts from AAMD's embarrassingly lame response to urgent questions about museums' governance and integrity:

Sound judgment and an unwavering commitment to the essential principles of art museums are fundamental characteristics demanded of every board member.

As museums and the contexts in which they operate become increasingly complex, it is ever more imperative that museum leaders on the Board and staff continue to address all...pressing matters of governance and integrity with frankness and transparency.

Every AAMD member institution is encouraged to create and review regularly its policy in such areas as:
• Collections Management;
• Personnel;
• Ethics;
• Finance and Investment.

The mission of all art museums is to serve the public through art and education. Fulfillment of this mission is the primary goal of every AAMD member and the touchstone by which all decisions are made concerning museum programs and operations.

Museum directors are responsible to their trustees, staff, donors and community for ensuring that museums meet the highest standards of professional and ethical integrity.

Who could argue? And who could derive any meaningful guidance from this? Perhaps there should, intead, have been a detailed list of what museums and their boards should NOT do---"worst" practices, instead of best practices. But this membership organization rarely says anything that might tie the hands of its membership.

These three pages of laughably vague pronouncements will do nothing to assure government regulators or the public that museums and their boards can be counted upon to be rigorously self-policing. It's time for AAMD to reexamine its own mission, and decide whether it's going to be more than a purveyor of platitudes.

Coming Next: Why the Getty should have known from the start that Munitz could be trouble.

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