Car Dealerships That Call Themselves Museums
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October 1, 2014
There's a car "museum" near my home where much of their collection is actually up for sale online.
I've long held that this doesn't make it a museum per se, rather a very nice classic car dealership with a nine-dollar admission price. One I've never yet paid since, of course, I'm not in the market for a classic car yet.
It's a feeling I haven't been able to articulate well in the past, but thanks to some recent research and a little help from Wikipedia to explain it all concisely, I finally can explain why this "museum" isn't actually a museum.
What makes a collection of cars a museum? It's deeper than simply whether it's part of a for-profit business or as an independent nonprofit entity. After all, automakers run for themselves some really top quality museums. I've been to BMW's in the 1990's.
One major aspect of a museum has to do with preservation, and by this I'm referring to something more permanent than keeping the dust off of it until a buyer comes along.
Another is the goal of the museum. Running a profitable business isn't a disqualifying factor, but if profit is the only factor considered in its existence, then it's very easy for such an institution to stray off the definition of a museum.
I've been reading a lot recently about museum policies and the key policy differences beyond simple semantics seem to be in the proceeses of accession and deaccession. Chances are, for shorthand, if someone running a car "museum" doesn't understand these words, they're not really running a real museum.
But here's the technical details of the process:
Accessioning is the formal, legal process of accepting an object into a museum collection. Because accessioning an object carries an obligation to care for that object in perpetuity, it is a serious decision. While in the past many museums accepted objects with little deliberation, today most museums have accepted the need for formal accessioning procedures and practices. These are typically set out as part of a museum's Collections Management Policy or CMP.
Several issues must be considered in the decision to accept an object. Common issues include:
Is the object relevant to the museum's mission and its scope of collecting, as defined by its governing body?
Was the object lawfully acquired and if foreign in origin, imported in compliance with international law?
Does the owner of an object have legal title to the object and therefore the right to transfer it?
Are there any other parties with an interest in the object (e.g. heirs of a donor, descendant groups for cultural objects, etc.)?
Is the object encumbered by any legal obligations or constraints (e.g., natural history objects that require special permits)?
Would the object pose any threats or dangers to other objects or staff?
Does the museum have the resources to properly care for the object (e.g., appropriate storage space, adequate funding)
Is the object encumbered by any donor restrictions?
Answering these questions often required investigating an object's provenance, the history of an object from the time it was made.
Deaccessioning, the process of disposing, selling or trading objects from a museum collection, is not undertaken lightly in most museums. There are ethical issues to consider since many donors of objects typically expect the museum to care for them in perpetuity. Deaccessioning of an object in a collection may be appropriate if a museum has more than one example of that object and if the object is being transferred to another museum. It may also be appropriate if an object is badly deteriorated or threatening other objects.
The decision to deaccession includes two parts. These are making the decision to deaccession and deciding the method of disposal. Generally, first choice is to transfer an object to another use or division in a museum, such as deaccessioning a duplicate object from a permanent collection into a teaching collection. Second choice is to transfer the object to another institution, generally with local institutions having priority. The American Alliance of Museums and other regional associations often operate lists or boards to help facilitate such transfers. Last choice is sale on the open market. Open market sales are generally expected to take place at auction rather than through private sale, and are typically most common in art museums due to the high monetary value of art collections.
Many ethical guidelines for deaccessioning require that the funds generated by disposing of collection items be used only to increase or maintain the remaining collection. For example, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics states that:
"Money or compensation received from the deaccessioning and disposal of objects and specimens from a museum collection should be used solely for the benefit of the collection and usually for acquisitions to that same collection".
In the United States, the guidelines on these matters are issued by the American Alliance of Museums.
The American Alliance of Museums Code of Ethics takes the position that "in no event shall they [deaccessioning proceeds] be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections".
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