Friday, January 30, 2009

Is the choice between Brandeis and the Rose?

There's been a lot of huffing and puffing about the decision of the Brandeis Board to close the Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection - most of it from folks who don't seem too much on the ball about what such a step must mean about the university's finances. Why would they be selling the art, goes the story, when all they have is a $10 million operating deficit?

Well, Houston, maybe they have a much bigger problem. This article in the Daily Beast lays out the following scenario from Peter French, Brandeis COO: an endowment down by almost a third, and likely to fall lower; major donors tapped out by Bernie Madoff; and a projected operating deficit of $79 million over the next six years.

Money quote:

Brandeis has already cut expenses and staff this year and last, and raised tuition and fees. French said the alternative now was either a drastic shrinking of the university or selling the art. Faced with the prospect of closing 40 percent of the university’s buildings, reducing staff by an additional 30 percent, or firing 200 of its 360 faculty members—any of which, French said, would drastically change the university’s mission and essentially cripple it—“We’d rather use [the]Rose.”

I hate to say it, but if those really are the choices facing the university, I think they may be doing the right thing. I know, I know - shocking from an arts blogger! But I have to confess I've only been out to the Rose once in my life, and while I'm not saying their art is "hidden away" in storage (it's often loaned out to other shows), still, the vast majority of it is never on the walls - and aren't there major gaps in the modern collections of, say, the MFA, that could be bolstered by buying the Rose's holdings - which would, perforce, see more foot traffic? As I mentioned before, the Rose collection is simply the most liquid asset Brandeis has. If they're really facing a crisis that could cut the faculty in half (and I realize that may be an exaggeration), then I think maybe people should back off a bit and begin trying to think of ways to keep the best of the Rose collection in public hands, and in the New England area.

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