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

What is "Public Trust"?

Museums talk about "Public Trust" a lot. What does this mean and why is it important to the collection? 

When museums talk about holding "public trust," they mean that the institutions are supposed to work for the public. This means that they don't work for just one person or one family, but they serve the entire community of museumgoers who walk through their doors. 

The Incluseum, a website that thinks about how to make museums inclusive of many different types of people, says, 

"The museum doesn’t serve the public trust simply by displaying art for its members, it does so by keeping and caring for the art on behalf of a greater community of members and non­members alike, preserving it for future generations to study and enjoy."

This idea of "preserving [art] for future generations" is important for understanding the rules behind how museums collect and deaccession art. If museums are supposed to think about future visitors at the same time they think about current visitors, museums must be very careful when they consider what artworks to buy and sell. 

By studying the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) and its collection, we will explore how an art museum builds and unbuilds its relationship with visitors and the "public," too. 

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