Creating a Collection: A Tour Through the Smith College Museum of Art

Careful consideration and approval

Before a museum can remove objects from its collection, it must demonstrate a process of carefully selecting and justifying what will leave. Under current ethical guidelines, this means that a list must be made of what is removed. The list often must be generated by curatorial staff or the directors, not by trustees or funders from outside the museum.

Then, other staff and advisors must review the objects being considered for removal and decide whether or not they approve of these choices, considering the factors that motivate deaccessioning in the first place. 

During the deaccessioning in the 1940s, the museum's staff did make detailed lists of artworks to be sold. The director shared these lists with Smith faculty, who approved the sale of most artworks named. Even though this moment is not a proud one in the museum's history, the curators who removed these artworks from the collection did so thoughtfully and carefully. 
Deaccessioning also must consider how the objects came into the collection.
Most museums prohibit removing donated artworks from their collections. If an artwork was donated to the museum, it is often done so with trust that the artwork will always stay in the museum's collection. 

Sometimes, donors will specify that their gifted artworks may be sold, but all funds earned must be used to buy more art of a similar style. An example of this is Betye Saar, Ancestral Spirit Chair

Purchased with the proceeds from the sale of a work donated by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Rittmaster (Sylvian Goodkind, class of 1937) in 1958 and with funds realized from the sale of a work donated by Adeline Flint Wing, class of 1898, and Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896, in 1961, 1992:42a-c

To learn more about the Purposeful Use of Funds, check out that page!

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