WWYH: “Eyes on the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs” and Changing Policies

By Heather DeSerio*

On February 28, 2017, the New York State Bar Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law’s Fine Art’s Committee (EASL) hosted a brown bag lunch with Kristin Sakoda, Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel of the New York City (NYC or the “City”) Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA or Department). Sakoda is a veteran at the DCLA and runs an all-female department of three attorneys. She presented to a room full of lawyers working in the arts about the DCLA’s mission the types of legal issues involved in the agency’s work, and the DCLA’s involvement in shaping the cultural policy of the City. Attendees of the event also learned about how the City administers and manages public art initiatives from the perspective of a lawyer, and the policies that shape the City’s arts-related initiatives.

Background

The creation of the Department of Cultural Affairs has an interesting story about how it became the DCLA that exists today. In 1869, a group of citizens proposed that NYC should build a museum for natural history, which led to the construction of the American Museum of Natural History. Afterwards, a number of museums began construction around the city. Next, followed the formation of an 11-member panel Art Commission in 1898, that oversaw the proposal and installation of permanent works of art, architecture, and landscape architecture on NYC owned property. Around 1934, then-mayor of NYC Fiorello La Guardia, appointed a Municipal Art Committee to advise the City on ways to stimulate New York’s cultural life during the hardships of the Great Depression. The Committee used funds from the Works Progress Administration, the emergency Relief Bureau, and other foundations. It wasn’t until 1968 that the DCLA was created within NYC’s Parks Department. In 1976, under the direction of Mayor Abraham D. Beame, the DCLA became its own department that existed separately from the Department of Parks and Recreation with its own commissioner. This was done so that the needs of the growing DCLA could be met and the Parks Department could better focus on providing for the Parks and Recreation initiatives.  

About the DCLA

The DCLA serves an important function in a city known for being one of the biggest cultural centers in the world. The annual budget on the Mayor’s Office website indicates that the DCLA is the nation’s largest municipal funder of the arts in the United States. During their 2017 fiscal year, their expense budget was $84.81 billion and a capital budget of $14.0 billion through 2018. (For more information about different breakdowns and allocations of funding for New York City see the annual budget by clicking here.)

The Department plays a pivotal role in encouraging and supporting public funding of art, artist residencies, and provides many grants to artists and institutions throughout the metropolitan area. This support contributes to New York’s diverse and robust cultural scene.

The DCLA has three primary funding divisions that provide support for the arts community. First there is the the Program Services Unit, which administers funds to groups that provide cultural experiences for NYC’s residents and visitors. The second funding division is the Cultural Institutions Unit that provides operational support (in the form of unrestricted operating grants and the payment of all energy bills – heat, light and power) for 33 major cultural institutions occupying City-owned buildings or land, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The third division is the Capital Projects Unit (CPU), which provides capital in the form of grants for the design, construction, and equipment for those institutions and other cultural groups in City-owned and non-City-owned facilities. The Capital Projects are funded from the NYC’s Capital budget.

Among their other projects, the DCLA administers New York City’s program Percent for Art, which makes art accessible to the public and visible throughout NYC by commissioning and acquiring art for display in public spaces. As the title of the program implies, 1 percent of the City’s capital is made available for the commission of or acquisition of a public piece of art. There are currently over 400 acquired works displayed around NYC. Click here to view a map of all the public artwork on display that was funded through the Percent for Art Program.  A couple familiar works include the Frederick Douglass Memorial, located in Central Park West and the Triumph of the Human Spirit monument in Foley Square (near the court houses downtown). On February 15, 2017, NYC’s Office of the Mayor released a statement that Mayor de Blasio recently signed off on an increase to the Percent for Art program in the amount of 1% of the first $50 million as indicated in the bill, Intro. 1296-A.

Another key program administered by the DCLA is Materials for the Arts (MFTA). It was  created in 1978. MFTA provides nonprofit and educational organizations with free supplies to support and grow art programs citywide. The program is headquartered in a large warehouse owned by DCLA in Long Island City, New York. MFTA collects reusable materials from a host of donors, and distributes them free of charge to qualifying non-profit arts organizations, City agencies, public schools, and social, health and community service organizations that have arts programs in New York City. Individual artists qualify only if they are financially sponsored by a non-profit organization. Once an entity qualifies, they can request a shopping appointment for materials at the MFTA warehouse or can obtain items through their online listing database. The MFTA also provides training for teachers on how to creatively reuse the donated materials and integrate them into art projects. The MFTA has distributed free supplies to more than 1,900 member organizations and public schools and collected more than 1.2 million pounds of high quality reusable goods valued at $5.8 million from over 1,685 donors, according to the DCLA’s website.

The Department has many new initiatives that focus on increasing support for art institutions and artists. For instance, one of these new initiatives involves integrating art into city services involves placing individual artist to partner with DCAS in the Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program. There is also the IDNYC Cultural Partnerships where the City offers NYC residents a free ID card that has the benefit of providing free one year membership to venues throughout the five boroughs such as the Museum of Modern Art, the New York City Ballet, the Bronx Zoo, and many more. These programs provide the public with increased  access to art programs to foster art education and more opportunities for residents to become members of cultural institutions to gain free access to museums, zoos, aquariums, and much more.  

DCLA’s Legal Counsel

The DCLA’s legal department provides guidance and support for most of the programs that the DCLA offers. More cultural institutions, museums, government, for profit and nonprofit should take note of the number of attorneys working for the DCLA. There are at least three attorneys that work together to provide support for all of DCLA’s initiatives in conjunction with the NYC Law Department. DCLA’s General Counsel handles a wide variety of issues for the City such as employment law, contracts, artist rights, leases, licensing, and legislative drafting.

The legal department at the DCLA also focuses on the City’s interest in artist rights under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S.C. § 106A. This provision is relevant when the DCLA commissions or agrees to purchase a work of art to be displayed publicly. Artists who are commissioned by the DCLA or who sell their artwork to the City should be aware of their “VARA rights.” This is because the artist’s moral rights in the artwork are impacted when the agreement is a work for hire agreement or the City includes provisions that indicate that the City has right to control the work or remove it for safety reasons. See, this previous article VARA, Back to the Rescue of Public Art in NYC written by Irina Tarsis of the Center for Art Law, for more information about VARA rights and provide an example of issues that an artist can face with public art agreements.

The DCLA attorneys also work with city council and provide guidance in drafting legislation for the Percent for Art Legislation program by making policy decisions for the department. The lawyers at the DCLA also carefully watch issues at the national level because decisions at the federal level can impact their Department. This is especially true as the new administration is taking office and making significant changes.

Federal Funding and the DCLA

Funding for exhibits is not the only problem that cultural institutions will face. On March 16, 2017, the United State’s Office of Management and Budget, released the proposed Budget for 2018 making it clear that the current administration wants to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”). The state and local Department of Cultural Affairs across the country face an important question about how they will be impacted by the proposed budget cuts to the NEA. Sakoda pointed to the fact that the federal budget trickles down to the state and then to the city. If the funding received by the State is reduced by the Federal Government it will in turn have a dramatic effect on the amount of available funds that the City receives from the State. Accordingly, the reduced budget the City will receive from the State will be reflected in the City’s reduced funding for grants to artists and cultural institutions. This will result in a decline in funding for exhibitions, art development, art organizations, and other art initiatives. There will also be a reduction in the acquisition of public art, and cultural institutions will be impacted significantly at the local level if the federal budget is reduced.

One of the most concerning issues with the federal cutbacks for the NEA is the federal insurance program that the NEA provides for exhibitions. There is a common requirement in loan agreements that museums must take out insurance for artwork displayed in an exhibit. Insurance is commonly provided by the NEA’s federal insurance program. This federal insurance program plays a huge role in providing insurance for artwork and without it many exhibits would never happen in the United States because major museums across the country would be unable to get insurance on their own for the amount required to put on large exhibits. The New York Observer’s article The Masterpiece Trade: Meet the U.S. Agency That Makes Museum Blockbusters Possible noted the role the federal insurance program plays in bringing major exhibits to museums by pointing out that the Museum of Modern Art displayed a statement that indicating that the recent “‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’ exhibit from October 12, 2014–February 10, 2015, was ‘supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.’”

For more information about the role that the NEA plays in the arts in the United States please read the article, The Legislative History of NEA and NEH, written by Emily Lanza.

Conclusion

Not only with the programs the DCLA manages trickle down to artists, institutions, and organizations, even public schools will feel the effects of this blunder because they would not receive materials from the Material for Arts Program. Artists will feel the shift in the federal government’s agenda in a dramatic way and be left with little financial assistance to spur creativity and care for artwork outside of the patronage system. It will have a stifling effect on creativity, and a failure to fund the NEA will reduce the number of important exhibitions, development of important non-profit organizations, leasing and acquisition of equipment, and reusable materials for public schools that help provide the public with motivation to develop and come up with new works to be displayed and interacted with.

Without the support and expertise of the DCLA, there is a big question that plagues the future of many publicly funded organizations, institutions, and art projects. The programs that the DCLA department funds are all susceptible to be reduced in proportion to the amount of funding received from the federal government. The policies and legislative initiatives could be altered as well. At this time, there is concern about whether the proposed budget or reduction in NEA funding will be approved by Congress. There are also discussions regarding an approved budget cut’s impact among members of the legal community that work within the creative organizations and individuals.

Helpful Sources

*About the Author: Heather DeSerio (NYLS, JD Class 2017) is a Spring 2017 Legal Intern with the Center for Art Law. In her studies, she is concentrating in Intellectual Property Law. Prior to law school, she worked as a fine artist and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Ringling College of Art and Design. She can be reached at heather.deserio@law.nyls.edu.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Any views or opinions made in the linked article are the authors alone. Readers are not meant to act or rely upon the information in this article and should consult a licensed attorney.

Broad or narrow: Taxman reviews “Private” Museums

By David Honig, Esq.*

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-1-48-18-pmLast year, on November 20, 2015, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) launched a review of eleven US private museums in response to a recent New York Times Article that exposes a possibility for abuse of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Every “domestic or foreign organization described in section 501(c)(3)” is considered a private foundation, unless it fits into one of four scenarios, dealing with where the organizations “support” is derived, set out in § 509(a).  Senator Hatch’s investigation did not include all nongovernment owned museums as the term “private museum” suggests – after all many of the most renowned museums in the United States, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Chicago are private museums even if they are not thought of as such. Instead, Senator Hatch looked into a subset of museums that only have one donor and are designated private foundation under 26 U.S.C. § 509.

The investigation, which concluded in May of 2016, sought to determine whether, and how much, these museums benefit the public. This inquiry was ignited by the fear that these private foundation museums are offering minimal benefit to the public while affording the donors substantial benefits including tax deductions. For example, the New York Times article mentions that at least two of these museums, Glenstone in Potomac, MD and the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, CT, require reservations and “[are] open only a few days a week to small groups.” The reason this matters is the tax advantages afforded to charities with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status are granted because of the public benefit these organizations provide. Logic suggests, if these museums are not providing a public benefit they should not be given preferential treatment. The real issue is not whether these museums provide a public benefit but whether the benefit provided can justify the private reward. In other words, should individuals capable of purchasing multi-million dollar artworks be afforded a discount on creating and maintaining private viewing salons?  Before determining whether these museums provide enough or any public benefit some background should be given, first on the museums themselves then on the tax benefits associated with this setup.

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The Private Museums

The United States has a long history of encouraging private enterprise. This can be seen in airlines, railroads, institutions of higher education and charitable organizations. The investment of private capital helps alleviate some of the financial strain felt by the state, while encouraging private organizations or individuals to provide public services. Seeking to reward private investment for the public good, “Congress sought to provide tax benefits to charitable organizations, to encourage the development of private institutions that serve a useful public purpose or supplement or take the place of public institutions of the same kind.”

One way Congress provided tax benefits to charitable organizations was by creating 26 U.S.C. § 501. Section 501(a) grants tax exempt status to certain organizations. Relevant here are corporations “organized and operated exclusively for … charitable … or educational purposes … ”. Seeking to take advantage of this section of the internal revenue code collectors have created organizations and donated artworks to them in order to establish museums for their private collections.

The Tax Scheme

One benefit of creating a nonprofit organization and donating artworks to it is clear – if the museum charges an entry fee the revenues can be used to maintain the artworks and space without the donor having to pay taxes. By relinquishing ownership of these works the donor no longer bears sole responsibility for upkeep. Since 9 of the 11 museums surveyed by Senator Hatch do not charge an admission fee, most of the founding donors have to donate more funds to insure the works and premises do not deteriorate. On its face, the free admission scheme is detrimental to the founding donor. In addition to paying for the upkeep, although possibly at a subsidized rate, the founding donor must also relinquish control of the works to the nonprofit corporation for the corporation to be eligible for the tax benefits under the internal revenue code.

Taking these issues in turn, the first, having to pay for upkeep, could actually be a benefit. The internal revenue code, specifically section 170, allows a donor to deduct a “contribution or gift” made to, among other organizations, corporations that qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. This means that besides possibly paying a reduced rate for the upkeep and maintenance of her art and a facility to house said art, the founding donor can deduct the amount donated to the museum to cover these costs.

In addition to allowing deductions for contributions section 170 also allows a donor to deduct gifts made to authorized organizations. By converting a collection that was privately owned by an individual into one that is held by a museum for the “public’s benefit” the founding donor can use money that would have been personally spent for upkeep of the art to reduce her taxes. By combining tax exempt status granted by 501 with the deductions afforded for charitable contributions in section 170 a founding donor is duly rewarded. Note: the internal revenue code places a limit, usually 50% of gross income, on the amount of deductions a person can take each year for charitable donations.

Tax deductions are not the only reason for a founding donor to entertain creating this type of organization. Once the works are donated the museum owns them and a donor no longer has no control, or so it would seem. If the donor serves on the board of directors, acts as president or serves in some other executive position the donor could execute control over the works of art. In fact, this is exactly what “many” of the founding donors are doing. An example of this is the Broad in downtown Los Angeles, whose founders Eli and Edythe Broad serve on the Board of Governors.

A donor that serves on the board or as an executive will be involved in not only how the artwork is managed but more importantly the operations of the museum. This includes determining hours of operations, admission price, what works should be bought and sold, displayed, put into storage or on loan. It is easy to see why Senator Hatch was worried about abuse of these tax exemptions since donors are able to reap huge tax benefits while seemingly giving up little in their enjoyment and control of art. In fact, some of the museums surveyed said that they are located on land owned by or partially by the founding donor. In other instances, museums are located on land adjacent to the donor’s residence. In order for this scheme to make sense and continue the public must get some benefit.

Public Benefits

“[C]harities [are] to be given preferential treatment because they provide a benefit to society.” It follows, that if there is no benefit to the public then the charity should not be given preferential treatment and a donor should not be allowed to receive tax deductions for donations to that charity. But the issue here is not one of existence of benefit it is one of degree of quality and quantity of benefit. The question ultimately boils down to whether or not these museums provide enough public benefit to be given preferential treatment and how is that determination made. In other words, what is the required level of public benefit that an organization must produce in order to receive preferential tax treatment under section 501 and how is it determined?

Unfortunately, it is hard to determine whether action actually benefits the public and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) guidelines are not very helpful on this front. Besides being open to the public for viewing and informing the public of access, it really is not clear what is required of an organization to achieve tax exempt status.

There are clear benefits to founders of private museums but the question remains are those benefits enough. For instance, of the 11 museums that received a letter from Senator Hatch 10 of them responded that they engage in or have engaged in loan programs. This means that a work of art that would normally be displayed in someone’s home or sit in storage was put on display for a large number of people to see. The creation of more museums allows works to be displayed that otherwise would sit in a basement or storage facility and never be seen by the public.  

Not only does the creation of more museums allow for more work to be shown it allows different work to be shown and curated in different ways. Private museums allow the whims of one person to dictate how and what art is acquired and later displayed. This type of museum does not have to focus on what it thinks would be the most educational exhibit for its visitors as traditional public museums do. Instead the exhibits can focus on art or whatever emotion or reaction a curator wants to provoke. This too is “educational” in its own right even though it is not designed with that purpose in mind.

Maybe the best example of this would be Eli and Edythe Broad’s Broad Museum in Los Angeles, California. The Broad is the poster child for what these types of private museums can be. It is open most days of the week and draws large crowds of young people. In addition to its visitors having a lower average age than the national average of museum goers, 32 compared to 45.8, as of March 2016 70% of the Broad’s visitors were younger than 34 years old.

The Broad represents what these museums can be, but just because others do not do as much as the Broad does not mean they do not do enough to benefit the public. The limited hours and days of operation and reservations requirements can be justified: the founder wanted to create unique and more intimate experiences for visitors. Should it matter that this type of public benefit is intangible?

Ignore for a second the obvious benefit of public access to these artworks. Also ignore the limited circumstances some of the museum allow the public access to these works – a reason for reduced access might be that these museums are new and the operating expenses associated with keeping more traditional matters currently do not make sense because of number of guest expected. How is it determined whether the public receives enough or any benefit at all? Maybe the benefit is not clear or scientific, maybe it is indirect, or maybe it will take years to manifest but once it does it will be incalculable. The fact is public benefit can be difficult to pinpoint.

This difficulty is reminiscent of a Copyright issue raised over 100 years ago. When approached with the question of whether an advertisement could be protected under copyright law in Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., Justice Holmes pointed out that judges should not determine the worth of “pictorial illustrations”. His reasoning, which boils down to the tastes of any portion of the public should not be looked down upon. Following that logic, maybe Congress, the IRS or a court adjudicating the issue of public benefit should determine that if any portion of the public benefits from an organization that organization should be allowed to keep its tax exempt status.

 *  *  *

Note: This Article is being reprinted with the permission from Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal, Fall 2016, vol. 27, no. 3, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, New York, 12207

*About the Author: David Honig is a member of the Brooklyn Law School Class of 2015. While attending law school he was a member of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy (BLIP) Clinic. He is admitted to New York and New Jersey state bars. From 2015 to 2016 he served as a postgraduate fellow at the Center for Art Law. David is currently pursuing an LL.M. in taxation from NYU Law.

Common European Heritage: The French and Dutch Government Joint Acquisition of Two Rembrandt Portraits

*By Ana T. Iacob

“Madame le ministre, Ladies and gentlemen, We hébben ze! Nous les avons! We have got them!’’

— Speech by Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker at the official signing ceremony for the Rembrandt portrait purchase

On February 1, 2016, France and the Netherlands jointly acquired two works by Rembrandt van Rijn, the wedding portraits of Maerten Soolmans and his wife, Oopjen Coppit. This joint acquisition, otherwise known as the Rembrandt Treaty, was accomplished through an intergovernmental agreement signed by the French and Dutch Ministers of Culture, becoming thus one of the most expensive sales of Old Master paintings in history. Christie’s Private Sales channel facilitated the acquisition, which totaled €160 million for both portraits.

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Rembrandt van Rijn, Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634)

History of the Portraits

The two oil paintings, completed in 1634, represent the only full-length portraits painted by Rembrandt. In 1878, the portraits moved from the Van Loon collection in the Netherlands to France when they were purchased for the Rothschild Collection. The impending move to France spurred the  Dutch government to attempt to acquire the paintings for the first time in order to prevent them from leaving the Netherlands. However, that did not occur due to the exorbitant price of the works. Accordingly, the portraits remained in the Rothschild Collection in France until 2013, when the Rothschild family announced its intent to sell the pair.

Immediately, the Dutch government saw the opportunity to have both paintings return to their nation of origin: the Netherlands. In an interview with BNR Nieuwsradio, the Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker said it would be “very undesirable” if the works were sold to “a rich oil state” instead of returning to the Netherlands. The Dutch parliament feared that if the Netherlands did not secure the works, the two portraits would remain outside their country of origin indefinitely.  

Sale of the Portraits

Both France and the Netherlands sought to individually purchase the portraits. According to Gary Schwartz, art historian and Rembrandt scholar, owning the portraits was a matter of national prestige for both the Netherlands and France. As early as September 2015, both the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Dutch government negotiated an agreement to bring €80 million to the table each in order to secure the paintings. Triggered by the eagerness of the Netherlands to acquire the works, the French Ministry of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, also offered €80 million to buy one of the portraits, with assistance provided by the Banque de France. According to Pellerin, France was ready to split the works with the Netherlands, even though there were no signs of agreement on the Dutch side and the uncertainty whether portrait owner Eric de Rothschild would even agree to separate the portraits.

The willingness of the Dutch government to massively contribute to the acquisition of the paintings surprised many. Arnold Witte, the head of art history at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, noted that this would be the most expensive acquisition made by a public institution to this day. He further added that, given the current situation, if there is a will, there is a way to provide the necessary money. Indeed, the Dutch government had found a way to fund the purchase of a national treasure in the past: the government acquired Dutch national treasure “Victory Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian in 1998 for 35 million. The public outcry in response to the government’s decision to spend such an amount at one time was widespread.

The desire of both countries to secure the masterworks for themselves clashed with the impossibility to pay the high asking price. A compromise was reached in the form of an intergovernmental agreement between France and the Netherlands, which stipulated that the Netherlands would own Maerten’s portrait and France would own the Oopjen portrait. The intergovernmental agreement further indicated that the works may never be separated from one another. To ensure that the portraits are always together, the pact contains firm provisions according to which the portraits will always be exhibited side by side, alternating between the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum. Both museums also agreed to incur joint responsibilities for the portraits. Furthermore, the agreement also allegedly memorialized the agreement to ban loans of the two portraits to institutions outside the two nations.

From a sequence of correspondence sent between the legal representatives of both parties, it turns out that the joint ownership transaction was supported by three legal documents. The documents included a protocol of cultural cooperation, which is a political document expressing the intent of the parties to engage; the intergovernmental agreement between the two countries; and, finally, the purchase agreement. The French representatives, in the explanations regarding French law, stressed the importance of mentioning that the contracts explain clearly that it is not a joint ownership, but rather a joint responsibility towards the paintings.  

Legal Ramifications of the Joint Purchase

Historically, France has been very protective towards its cultural heritage, as demonstrated by French patrimony laws regarding national treasures. In this fashion, article L 111-1 of the Code of French Heritage defines the notion of national treasure. Cultural assets that qualify as national treasures are works within public collections, historic monuments and those works of major interest for national heritage. If the work passes a set value and seniority threshold, it may be subject to an export license refusal. Accordingly, if an item is older than 50 years and valued at more than €150,000, it may not granted the export license and the work cannot leave the country for a period of 30 months–a period in which the French government or a private patron could raise the required amount to acquire the works. In this case, even though the two portraits satisfied the two national treasure qualification requirements, the export license was granted without even submitting documents for the review of the Advisory Board of National Treasures. The Louvre and the French Ministry invoked “lack of funds” as an explanation for the granting of the export papers, even though some questioned the influence of the Rothschild family on the expedience of the process.

According to French law, the joint purchase by two Museums and subsequent transnational ownership of the works would have been unprecedented and perhaps legally impossible. However, the French government circumvented this difficulty by the separate and individual ownership of each of the portraits by the two governments. Accordingly, the Louvre owns Oopjen’s portrait while the Rijksmuseum owns Maerten’s, which satisfied French acquisition legislation.

Reaction to the Sale

In France, the sale was met with harsh criticism. For example, the French publication, La Tribune de L’Art, had very strong opinion on the matter, and expressed disappointment that the Ministry of Culture and the Louvre did not declare the works as national treasures by 2013, thus making them then available for sale. Had the works been declared national treasure, the sale would have been delayed for 30 months, giving the chance to the French state or a private patron to acquire the works. However, the Louvre and the Ministry explained that even if they would have delayed the sale, it would not have been enough to raise the necessary funds.

Inevitably, Eric de Rothschild, the portraits’ owner before the sale to France and the Netherlands, was also targeted by criticism. La Tribune de l’Art accused him of betraying the spirit of his family’s patronage, going so far as to say that Rothschild “should have honored his name.” In their opinion, even though he had the right to sell the work to whomever offered the highest price, as a great patron of art and as a member of Société des Amis du Louvre, Rothschild should have approached the museum and settled for a price that would have allowed the paintings to remain in the country unconditionally.

   In the Netherlands, the opinion regarding this sale and the decision of the government to pledge such a big amount for the purchase varied. Dutch Parliamentary leader Alexander Pechtold played an important role in securing the Rembrandts. He led the campaign to raise the necessary funds for the sale and received praise for the fact that someone in his position would focus on works of Dutch cultural heritage. Dutch Minister Bussemaker explained that this was an opportunity that would never come again and, as such, had to be seized.

On the other hand, when asked on the street for their opinion, a number of individuals noted that in these times, such a great amount of money, spent at once, seemed excessive.

Conclusion

Joint ownership of artworks by two governments remains unusual and is not without complications. For example, in 2009 and 2012 respectively, two Titian paintings were purchased by the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Scotland for $147 million. Now, the status of this duo may be in jeopardy with the recent Brexit vote. Shared ownership of works, however, can be applied on smaller scales. Dual ownership of videos is occurring more often because it is logistically easier, such as with the joint acquisition of The Clock (Christian Marclay) by the Tate, the Centre Pompidou and the Israel Museum.

Although the examples above demonstrate other instances of dual acquisition, the joint purchase of the Rembrandt portraits is outstanding for a number of reasons: first, due to the record amount paid for the art by two nations and second, due to the unusual ownership arrangements between them. Pooling together extensive economic and political forces, both countries successfully secured two European masterpieces. It is unclear whether potential buyers of related artworks in the future will be able to use this dual acquisition model to guide their dealings, as the circumstances surrounding the Rembrandt portraits’ creation and ownership are unique in their own right. If nothing else, one positive outcome of the two nations cooperating is the the fact that for the first time in a long period, the portraits will be publicly displayed. Sales taxes, if any, seems to be owed exclusively to the French government.

Sources:

*About the Author: Ana T. Iacob is a jurist living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She has a Master in European Private Law from the University of Amsterdam and is interested in art and intellectual property law.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

 

Spotlight: Institute for Museum and Library Services (DC)

By Debra S. Friedmann*Screen shot 2015-10-06 at 10.34.02 AM

Combining the number of all Starbucks and McDonald’s locations will still not come close to the number of museums and libraries in all of the United States. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the “IMLS” or the “Institute”), an independent government agency dedicated to the innovation and improvement of libraries and museums around the country, there are some 35,000 museums and 123,000 libraries in the U.S. These numbers are collected and reviewed biannually.

IMLS was created through the Museum and Library Services Act in 1996, an amendment to the Museum Services Act, within the National Foundation for the Arts. The Institute is currently  headed by Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, who was recently confirmed by the senate in September 2015 for a four-year term. The President’s National Museums and Libraries Services Board advises the IMLS director on general policy and practices, in addition to selections for the National Medals for Museum and Library Service. The Institute, made up of approximately sixty employees receives funding through the federal congressional appropriations process, signed by the U.S. President.

The 114th Congress House of Representatives report on the budget for the 2016 fiscal year sought to eliminate the budget for the IMLS claiming that supporting museums and libraries is not a core federal responsibility.  The report instead puts the burden on the state and local governments to support these institutions, supplemented by charitable contributions from the private sector. President Obama on the other had requested a budget of $237,427,957 for the Institute. With much additional support from the museum and library community, including advocates from the American Museum Alliance, IMLS overcame this hurdle will be allotted funds with the completion of the 2016 budget.

One of the duties of the Institute is to distribute funds down the chain line in the form of grants. IMLS is the greatest source of primary funding from the federal government to support museums and libraries. It also administers the funds appropriated by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). IMLS was developed to create a network where people can connect and share ideas. Each of these cultural institutions – libraries including public, academic, research, special and tribal, and museums including art, history, science and technology, children’s museums, historical societies, tribal museums, planetariums, botanical gardens and zoos – to some degree is supported by IMLS, whose mission is to “inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.” Specifically  IMLS sets five main goals to guide research, policymaking, and grant opportunities, which include: 1) a focus on the learner as a member of the local and global community; 2) civic engagement and cultural opportunities; 3) innovation in technology to help learning; 4) advising the president on plans, policies, and activities; and 5) public management.

The Institute produces annual reports in which it highlights surveys, research, and analysis conducted by IMLS to identify trends and evaluate needs of libraries and museums.  According to the reports, the research is submitted into publications and catalogs by the agency is meant to help museums and libraries brainstorm ways to improve their institutions by learning from the successes and from successful programs as well as missteps. One such survey is the “Public Needs for Library and Museum Services Survey” (PNLMS), accessible in both English and Spanish. The survey includes information regarding  museum attendance, attitude towards going to museums and libraries, demographics of those who respond, and information on how and to what extent the family uses these institutions through a cross-sectional sample of data collected through random-digit dialing (RDD). The results of this survey were released in Spring 2015, and are often used by policymakers in federal and state government, practitioners, researchers, and journalists to learn about the outstanding needs of the public and consider how to resolve these deficiencies.

The IMLS Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) is a resource for data collection, publications, and evaluation resources that measure the outcome of different methodologies. All of these findings are available and shared by museums and libraries to improve their own programming in areas such as general demographics, child well-being, education, health, arts and culture, library services, economic indicators, labor and employment, and small businesses. Not only does IMLS provide the information, but it also provides the tools for museums to create their own surveys and data analysis that are specially designed to address the needs of the institution. To help measure the success of museums and libraries experimenting with innovative programs, the IMLS website also offers guides to monitor, evaluate, and analyze the results of the program. The agency recognizes that not all museums and libraries are the same, and thus the same evaluation  will not always apply to every program. IMLS provides a diverse list of methods and resources with contact information for a guide to help shape future projects.

IMLS awards grants in areas such as collections management, community engagement, conservation, formal education, informal learning, partnerships, professional development/continuing education, research, demonstration, digital collections/tools, public programs, awards, and innovation. The agency invites applicants to develop new, creative, and effective ideas to change any part of the industry.

One such grant was awarded to the Barnes Foundation in 2013, partnered with the Conservation Center for Art and Historical Artifacts in Philadelphia. The grant helped fund the conservation of 22 works of art, including five works by Paul Cézanne, five by Pablo Picasso, nine by Paul Klee, two by Edgar Degas, and one by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Following its move from Lower Marrion to the Philadelphia Museum Mile, the Barnes Foundation has a conservation lab on site . Several of Cézanne’s sketches were newly revealed by cleaning up watercolors form under brown acidic paper. In celebration of their new findings, the Barnes foundation held an in-house display entitled Cézanne Uncovered: Two Sketches Revealed through Conservation.

Once a grant is awarded, IMLS requires the awarded institution to develop an outcome-based evaluation (OBE) procedure. The evaluation method is meant to help show the extent to which the program met its goals, progress towards long-term goals, quality of progress, need for more or fewer resources, and reiterates the importance of the program. The term “quality” is defined by each institution individually and could include categories such as efficiency, productivity, cost control, effectiveness, and value to the community.

These OBEs are submitted to Congress as required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The purpose of this review is to keep the federal government informed about the programs they fund and to try to identify areas of inefficiency and overspending. Institutions are therefore accountable to the federal government for the funding they receive. The efficient funding of these grants contribute to the overall goal of IMLS, which is to create strong libraries and museums and to connect these institutions so that successful programming can spread further. IMLS creates a database for all members of museums and libraries to see which programs worked, which did not, and how they may implement a completely new idea.

IMLS also takes applications for grant peer reviewers. After IMLS receives a complete application for a grant, the application is reviewed by volunteers with comparable expertise. According to the review process program instructions, each application is reviewed approximately three to six times. The reviewers submit comments answering the questions IMLS provides for evaluation. IMLS then makes the final funding decisions using these comments to further inform its decisions.

Under the new leadership of Dr. Matthew, the Institute is poised to become less of a mystery. For those interested in exploring the employment opportunities with IMLS, there are paid internships available to law, library and public policy students.

Sources:

*About the Author: Debra Friedmann is a second-year law student at the Georgetown University Law Center. She received a B.A. in History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. She may be reached at dsfriedmann@gmail.com.

Disclaimer:  This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Readers are not meant to act or rely on the information in this article without attorney consultation.

I am not a Fan: Museums Acting and Reacting to Public Opinion

By Irina Tarsis, Esq.*

Magritte, "C’est ci ne pas un Pipe."

Magritte, “C’est ci ne pas un Pipe” (1929). On public view at LACMA (78.7).

Self-censorship by museums is a dangerous trend. In the July/August issue of The Art Newspaper, Maurice Davies, of the Museum Consultancy and senior research fellow in the Department of Management at King’s College London, explores several instances in recent history where museums worldwide engaged in self-censorship to the detriment of the public. On this humid summer day, we ask, shouldn’t museums leave self-censorship to artists and trigger-happy public? Museums focus so much of their attention on self-censorship, yet leave other areas of museum administration exposed. Self-assessment should occur across all aspects of museum administration, such as encouraging provenance research, decreasing disparity in staff compensation and developing best practices for borrowing and lending art works. Otherwise it seems that museums tend to fight tooth and nail over keeping contested art works in their collections, in efforts that are more costly than brainstorming creative solutions to attract visitors to the exhibition halls or address historical and social injustices.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 2.25.02 PMWhereas Davies’ article focuses on self-censorship due to security fears, and controversial material that includes nudity, racial, or political representations, the recent public outcry against “Kimono Wednesdays” in front of the 1876 Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise/Camille Monet in Japanese Costume” at the Museum of Fine Art collection in Boston is but another instance where public outrage is misplaced as more important issues remain overlooked. What is truly shocking is that there are plenty of outrageous art-related displays that deserve the flagellation of the public. Somehow these manifestations do not encounter the same adamant resistance, leave little impact on museums, yet tend to be more offensive.

“In an episode that speaks volumes about cultural institutions, ethnic sensitivity, and the power of protest in the digital age, the Museum of Fine Arts is hastily pulling back on an event that protesters labeled a latter-day form of racist minstrelsy.” [From the editor: “Minstrelsy – a 19th century form of entertainment developed in the US that included musical, comic and variety acts performed by either white people in blackface or by black people.] Thus begins just one of dozens of articles, this by The Boston Globe staffer, Malcolm Gay, on the topic of the failed experiment at interactivity at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (the “MFA”) involving a kimono dress-up in front of a Monet portrait.

The irony of the situation of course is that this very same Monet painting recently returned from an exhibit in Japan, entitled “Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan” where “historically accurate reproduction kimonos were made for visitors to try on.” Yet, a similar program at the progressive Massachusetts museum faced an exceedingly critical public reaction from concerned visitors and activists. The MFA chose to diffuse the controversy by canceling the dress-up element of the display instead of using this opportunity to tackle the misconceptions surrounding the idea of cultural appropriation.

Monet "La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume)" (1876). On View a MFA (56.147).

Monet “La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume)” (1876). On view at MFA (56.147).

The decision to scrap the benign kimono project is disturbing because museums are meant to be educational forums where different manifestations of creativity and creative types inform the public about the past and safeguard it for the future. It is universally accepted that artists frequently explore and borrow ideas and iconography from different cultures and other artists. Just as Eastern Art experimented with “Western” conventions of painting landscapes to show perspective and integrated Western dress into portraiture, artifacts of Asian, African, South American art and culture, including fans, kimonos, masks, patterns, ceramics, etc. were and continue being frequently incorporated themes in Western artworks, with varying success.

What was the intent of the MFA in allowing visitors to try a kimono? To offend? To discriminate? Unlikely. The Museum is open for free on Wednesday nights to be accommodating and inclusive. Making kimono available on Wednesday nights for photo-ops in front of a festive 19th century Impressionist painting was anything but racist. By allowing their visitors to don a replica kimono, the MFA probably wanted to capitalize on social media use in museums. Even the White House, lifted its ban of taking photos on the tours, arguably recognizing that the technology and the inexplicable need to snap pictures with one’s phone at every turn, on every tour and in every location, will happen whether they are banned or not.

The lesson learned from the MFA bungle, is perhaps what is fashionable is not always classy. Davies concludes his article with a suggestion that “museums could push at the edges of the law” and they should help address difficult contemporary events and social divides rather than shy away from this role. In instances such as the “Kimono Wednesdays”, we counsel museums to be more discriminating in handling public reactions. On the house.

Select Sources:

About the Author: This editorial is by Irina Tarsis, art lawyer and Founder and Director of Center for Art Law.

Margarita Aguilar, Former Director of the El Museo del Barrio, Files Discrimination Claim

Margarita Aguilar, former director of
El Museo del Barrio,  is suing the
museum for gender discrimination.

Last week things turned sour at the El Museo del Barrio once again.  Margarita Aguilar, museum director since 2010, filed a claim with New York State human rights officials claiming gender discrimination.  In a statement, she revealed that she was publically humiliated by the museum’s executive board.

She was told to lose weight, dress better and reshape her eyebrows.  Aguilar also cites specifically that when she fired the finance director last year, she was called a “hysterical woman.”

On January 14th, Aguilar was terminated from the museum.  The timeline of events is questionable.  Her lawyer, Donald Defner, spoke to the museum counsel on January 9th about Aguilar’s hostile workplace complaints.  On January 11th, Aguilar was suspended by the museum for “dereliction of duty, failure to engage in meaningful fundraising activities, and failure to effectively lead and work with various staff members.”

On January 13th, the museum’s executive commitee planned a meeting to discuss the suspension, and informed Aguliar on January 11th.  Aguilar failed to show up for the meeting, citing that she was not given enough notice to prepare.  She received her “pink-slip,” a letter of termination, the next day.

El Museo del Barrio emphasizes group tours and
educational programs for the community.

Aguilar told The New York Times, “This is beyond belief.  I was doing my duties from the moment I stepped in to the moment I left.”

What is really going on beneath the surface?  The museum is facing financial major hurdles. In January, the museum laid off 1/5 of its staff, put into place required staff furloughs, and cut back its hours.

The museum is also facing what ABC News calls an “identity crisis.”  There is strong debate about whether the museum should continue on its current track of community involvement, or expand its reach internationally.

According to NYU Professor Arlene Davila, this is not a new problem for the El Museo del Barrio.  She stated: “They [the museum] have a history of trying to upscale the institution.  It has always been a challenge between the community that sees it as their institution and the board.  It wants to be the MET or the Guggenheim, when it’s roots come from the community.  It’s about class.  There’s a lack of transparency.  The board is not open about their direction.”

It is speculated that Chus Martinez, a popular European curator and chief curator at the museum since last year, will take Aguilar’s place as museum director.
Sources: Felicia R. Lee, “El Museo del Barrio Named in Discrimination Claim,” The New York Times, February 22, 2013; “Beloved Institution El Museo del Barrio Has an Identity Crisis, Again,” ABC News, February 22, 2013; Felicia R. Lee, “Margarita Aguilar Leaves El Museo del Barrio,” The New York Times, February 15, 2013.