Monday, May 6, 2013

Debt Causes Chicago's Field Museum To Auction Off Collections

If you are hoping to see famous items such as paintings by 19th century artist George Caitlin at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, you will be out of luck. Citing massive debt bought on by the Great Recession, the museum has auctioned off these works and some of its other collections in order to stay afloat.

According to report on NPR, the museum saw its endowment take a huge hit after the stock market tanked both in 2002 and 2008. Combined with bonds issued in 2002 to add an undergrounds collection center and make other updates, the Field Museum found itself in massive debt. To make matters worse, an expected increase in attendance did not occur, causing the institution to miss its fundraising goals.

Even after various cost-cuttings and layoffs, Field Museum CEO Richard Larivere told NPR that the institution's budget is still $5 million in the red, and most of that budget is slated to pay off debt.

Larivere became CEO this year and arrived after the previous head had decided that the best course of financial action was to sell off some of its collections. The practice -- known as deaccessioning -- is common in the museum world though there are some generally accepted guidelines on how the funds from these sales are to be used. For example, University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute states that institute will only deaccession collections to "establish order and purpose to the collection," among other reasons.

The Field Museum used the nearly $15 million in funds from their deaccessioning to pay off certain staff members and to purchase new artifacts, which Larivere said is within the accepted guidelines for the practice. He also said that the museum would continue to sell off collections if it needed more money to balance their budget.

Although deaccessioning is an accepted practice there is some concern that it could cause donors to think twice before donating treasured items to museums.

You can read the full story on NPR's website.

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