In hopes of relieving some of its financial woes, Brandeis University recently announced that it would close its Rose Art Museum in order to sell the collection. This deplorable decision must not go unnoticed by Brandeis’ peer institutions, including Cornell. By treating art as a liquid asset, Brandeis fails to recognize the true value of art and museums on college campuses.
The Rose was founded in 1961 to display contemporary and modern art in step with Brandeis’ commitment to promoting the arts in higher education. It remains one of the premier institutions of its kind, containing works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns. Many of its 7,000-plus works were purchased at the onset of the artists’ careers, and have increased exponentially in value since. The Rose’s collection was valued at about $350 million in 2007.
Brandeis has been facing severe financial strains exacerbated by the Madoff scandal, which include a 20-percent loss in its endowment. This loss, however, is no greater than that suffered by Cornell and other schools across the country. According to a spokesperson for Brandeis, the university is facing a $10 million budget deficit for the fiscal year — an amount much smaller than the estimated worth of the Rose’s collection.
The decision to close the museum exemplifies the university’s outlook on the value of art: that it is only worth as much as it fetches in the marketplace. Yet, art and museums are invaluable on university campuses because of their intellectual, cultural and scholarly worth both in and out of the classroom.
Selling the great works of the Rose would not only compromise the integrity of Brandeis as an institution of higher education, but would violate the trust of university students, faculty and donors.
This is particularly salient in regard to donors who contributed more than 84 percent of the Rose’s collection, most with the requirement that they would be publicly displayed. Selling these works undercuts the donors’ intentions to benefit academia and nourish culture through the public display of art. Furthermore, the move to eliminate the museum is a powerful insult to current students in the humanities whose studies benefit directly from the collection.
The deafening silence of other universities, however, is perhaps the most stunning facet of this ordeal. While museum directors, art collectors, donors and Brandeis community members have all voiced concerns — including a pointed letter by faculty members and a museum sit-in staged by students — almost no university officials, either at Brandeis or elsewhere, have spoken out against the decision.
Now is the time for Cornell — itself home to an esteemed art museum and collection — to speak out on behalf of fine art and its place in the university.
In a world where fine art is often reduced to nothing more than its financial value, and placed last on a long list of priorities, it must be the role of academia to step in, voice its concern and ultimately support the arts. Cornell and other universities must echo this concern to Brandeis. With the amplified support of peer institutions, hopefully it is possible to stop the sale of the Rose’s collection.