For those interested, we will begin
posting articles, commentaries, and other assorted material relating
to museums on Long Island and other nearby regions. For many
of us in the field this will be a place to comment about what we see
happening (both the good and the bad) at the museums that we visit,
work at, or support.
November 2010 -
Grave Danger to NYSCA Funding - Please Read!
From our Colleague Alison Meyers,
Executive Director, Cave Canem Foundation, Inc.:
I'm forwarding an urgent e-blast from a reliable source that
concerns all New York State arts organizations & administrators.
Please accept my apology if you’re already aware of the
time-sensitive issues set forth in the attached document. If,
however, the summary pasted below comes as news to you, as it did to
me, I urge you to open the attachment, inform yourself, & make your
voice heard. Please read on:
The governing Council of the New York State Council on the Arts
(NYSCA) is considering a total reorganization of NYSCA. If
implemented, sweeping changes will diminish the Agency’s
intellectual capital, eviscerate the funding program structure and
threaten the integrity of support to service organizations
representing field-wide disciplines.
Reorganization plans were formulated in secrecy and without NYSCA’s
historic transparency, open meetings of the governing Council,
opportunities for public comment by arts constituencies, or
involvement by all but a few staff.
"Areas of Support" will replace long established Programs. The
juxtaposition of Areas of Support that have lost their program
status suggests the strong possibility of deeply endangering a
number of fields.
Program Directors with extensive experience and expertise in their
fields have been renamed “Senior Program Officers,” are being
reassigned to “Areas of Support” and will be assigned portfolios of
multiple areas of support. In some cases, former Program Directors
have been shuffled out of their fields of expertise, and replaced by
"Senior Program Officers" with little or no expertise in their
A new middle management structure has just been created even as the
staff size at NYSCA has been substantially reduced through
retirements and attrition. Now more people will be supervising fewer
Executive Director Heather Hitchens is stonewalling efforts to
discuss these reorganization changes with arts fields.
Representatives from a number of arts groups who have asked to meet
with her have not been able to schedule an appointment.
As these changes are becoming known, New York's arts community is
mobilizing to protest the destruction of NYSCA’s program structure
and reassignment of leaders in their disciplines into areas where
they lack expertise. Maintaining the use of staff expertise is more
critical than ever due to the state’s budget crisis.
Contact State Assembly Members, Senators and NYSCA Council members:
NYS Assembly Member by Zip Code: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/ ;
NYS Senator by zip code: http://www.nysenate.gov/ ; NYSCA Council
Members link, listed on http://nysca.org/
November 2010 -
MANY survey available
The MANY benfirts survery is now
Get a copy of the 2010-2011 Benefits Survey today. This is the
second and final part of the current salary survey. Since this
survey is a benefit of your MANY membership, we ask that you share
this information only within your institution. Additional copies of
the Benefits Survey will be for sale at the MANY website:
Fight the cut of State Funding to NYSCA
NYSCA: Keep up the Phone Calls.
Budget negotiations are winding down in Albany and funding for
NYSCA's local assistance grants remains the target of a 40%
reduction. If any of your institutions receive direct funding from
NYSCA, or receive Decentralization funding, or got a Ready, Set or
Go grant or a conservation treatment grant, then you've got a stake
in NYSCA's funding future. If you haven't done so already.....and we
hope you have many times so far this year....CALL your state
legislators this week to tell them what 40% less NYSCA funding will
look like at your museum. This isn't pretty. If you want to send
your legislator the list of 2010 NYSCA grantees so he/she can see
it, we can get to you. That may help him/her to see just how a 40%
reduction could devastate some organizations, particularly in the
area of General Operating Support.
Rather than recontacting your legislators, we suggest you call the
offices of the Assembly and Senate leaders: Shelly Silver in the
Assembly at 518-455-3791 and John Sampson in the Senate 518-455-2788
ASAP to ask them to lessen the 40% cut.
Office of Cultural Education:
have been asked by the Office of Cultural Education (OCE) at the
State Education Department to get the word out about pending
legislation that, if passed, would stabilize the Cultural Education
Account, which funds the OCE. Funds for this account come from a
portion of the surcharges collected by county clerks on mortgage
recordings. Because the legislature has failed to raise the
surcharge in the past, the revenue has been declining precipitously
since FY2004-05 and the Cultural Education Account is now running an
$8M deficit. That means that State Museum, State Archives, State
Library and Public Broadcasting services are being severely
impacted. Archives and Library funding programs that some of you use
will likely be curtailed.
immediate need is to get the bill on the Assembly Ways and Means
Committee ASAP. Here's a link to the committee and its membership:
http://assembly.state.ny.us/comm/?sec=mem&id=41 If you have an
Assembly Member is on this committee, give him or her a call. Thanks
very much for all your help.
Anne W. Ackerson Director, THE MUSEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK
State and Local Governments Eye Ending Charity Tax Breaks
By Andy Markowitz
Facing declining revenues and growing budget gaps, state and local
governments nationwide are considering revoking various tax
exemptions for nonprofit organizations, The New York Times reports.
Hawaii lawmakers are mulling a bill to levy a 1 percent tax on
charities, a measure before Kansas legislators would subject
nonprofit groups to sales taxes, and counties in Kansas and
Pennsylvania are considering an end to property-tax exemptions. In
Indiana, local governments are weighing user fees for police.
Museums "Checked - Out" by Thieves
This is about the museum thefts that were happening in the Western
New York area, that resulted in the arrest of Michael Ortiz (who may
have been working with his brother Roy Ortiz, still to be proved.)
Investigator Peter McCormack contacted me. Phone records of the
Ortiz brothers showed that they called the following list of sites.
I don't know the details for all of the places, but they called my 3
sites numerous times in October and November 2009. Investigator
McCormack told me he has had trouble reaching a person at some of
these sites. I offered to post the list here.
one of these places is yours and you have not talked to Investigator
McCormack, please contact him (info is below.) If you know someone
at one of these sites - please consider passing on this information.
Please note Investigator McCormack wrote "These are locations that
were called, we don't know if they went to the locations or if any
larcenies occurred. I am just trying to get the information out so
that the museums can check their inventory and to determine if they
had any suspicious incidents."
is also trying to build a case showing they had intent to commit
larcenies at several sites. So even if you are not missing anything,
he would like to know if you had any suspicious visits or phone
calls. Here is the list, along with his contact information.
Amherst Museum Boston, NY Museum Concord, NY Museum Orchard Park
Museum, Campbell-Whittlesey House Museum, Clarence Museum, Webster
Museum, Fairport Museum, Victorian Doll Museum, Peacock Museum,
Honeoye Falls Springville Library, Hamburg Historical Society,
Martin Darwin House, Barker Museum, Cheektowaga Museum, Byron
Museum, Heritage Square Museum Ontario, NY Hoyt-Potter House, The
Landmark Society of Western NY, Newfane Historical Society, Van Horn
Mansion ,Western NY Railroad Society, Hrvol Museum, Old Fort
Niagara, Stone-Tolan House Museum, Wilson Historical Society,
Livingston Historical Society, Tinker Museum, Valentown Museum,
Greece Historical Society, Interlaken Museum, Iron Island Museum.
Director of Museums and Education
The Landmark Society of Western New York
Museum Robberies in New York State - Civil War Artifacts
During the the past few weeks museum
professionals across the state have been reeling due to several
robberies. A pair of young men have been stealing Civil War
and other military artifacts from smaller institutions located in
various communities of upstate New York. Museum proeffsionals
and their staffs should be very cautious - these robbers have not
only stolen unsecured matieral, but have also broken into cases
while docents/tour-guides have been present.
If you have Civil War or other
military related displays, you should either secure them properly or
possibly remove them from display for the time being. Staff
and volunteers should be in any room while visitors are present, and
should watch out for two young, white men, who are believed to be
involved in the robberies.
Fall 2009: NEW: Concerns Raised
About Ethics of Vendor Sales Tactics
The Museum Association
of New York understands that there are many ways to dispose of
deaccessioned collections. The current economic environment has
heightened competition among auction houses, independent dealers,
and, yes, even eBay sellers to handle disposal of your institution's
We believe you should be
wary of any vendor who attempts to secure your business by
encouraging your institution to deaccession. We strongly urge all
museums and heritage organizations to thoroughly vet all potential
antique and collectible sellers to ensure their integrity and
reputation, whether it is an auction house, an independent dealer,
or an eBay seller. We would err on the side of well-established
sellers and the iron-clad referrals from other institutions.
We believe that museums
and heritage organizations in New York State recognize that
deaccessioning is only undertaken in accord with an institution's
mission and legal purposes, and that there are well-accepted
criteria for deaccessioning, and that the proceeds from
deaccessioning are restricted as to their use.
Anne W. Ackerson,
Director, Museum Association of New York, 265 River Street Troy, New
Winter 2009: This commentary is a response
to the New York Times article "Vanderbilt Museum Is Fighting for Its
Life" which was published on January 2, 2009.
some ways, I wonder how we arrived at this place. I suppose I should
not be surprised by the endless failings at the Vanderbilt Museum -
it has been a declining institution for many, may years. When I look
back at it through the eyes of my childhood I remember the awe and
excitement the place provided for a kid growing up in the suburbs.
The bus pulling in being met by those mighty black eagles - the
planetarium and all its wonder - the garage filled with beautiful
touring cars - the sunken pool - the displays - the gilded and
carved ceilings - and the mummy.
was all those memories that had me bring college friends from
Virginia to the place a year and half ago - I promised a truly
magnificent experience - so it was a great surprise to me that I
spent the day apologizing for the state of the place. Where to start
- while the eagles till sat where they had years before they were
surrounded by the trash left by visitors form the day before - the
planetarium was closed and locked, the doors with a taped piece of
paper reading "we are not responsible for opening times listed in
outside publications" - the garage has been long closed (I wonder
what happened to the touring cars?) - the sunken pool is in such a
decrepit state and so overgrown it can barely be seen - displays are
closed or in poor shape - the ceilings are falling down in places
within the mansion - and I could not find the mummy.
of this is part of a long and sordid history of mismanagement on the
part of the Trustees of the museum and the trustees of the money
left by William K. Vanderbilt Jr. for the benefit of the museum. As
we have all been reading there is great "astonishment" on the part
of many county legislators and others in local government - none of
whom have taken the time to understand the exceptionally poor manner
in which the county has allowed this treasure to be treated.
those same people say that the museum is threatened by losses to its
endowment that they all blame on the failing economy. Nothing could
be further form the truth. All one has to do is read the report
commissioned by the county on the health of museum - entitled Vanderbilt Museum Trust Fund Annual Report - it serves better than
any indictment from a court would in explaining, in detail, the
inaction of the county to stop this problem years ago. That's right
Suffolk county residents - the county could have stopped this
train-wreck years ago with just a little basic financial management
and prudence - ah, but alas this is the county we are talking about.
Those of us who work in the museum field understand better than
anyone that we never truly own our collections - rather we hold them
in TRUST for the public - for their benefit, their education, their
enjoyment. This goes for the money our institutions hold, the major
job of our trustees is to protect the value of those assets and to
ensure their protection and growth over time. This idea is stated
simply on the Smithsonian Institution's website: "Fiduciary
Responsibility - Regardless of how a museum is organized, the
governing body (museum board, trustees) serves as fiduciaries of a
public trust. They are obligated to hold the institution's assets,
especially collections, in trust for the general public." It seems
the county as trustees for the museum's endowment and the Vanderbilt
trustees missed this part of the class.
reading the county's own report it is clear that they did nothing to
stem the tide of losses on the endowment investments. To start we
need to understand when Vanderbilt died in 1944 her left the estate,
its contents, plus $2 million for its care. His daughter Muriel
supplemented this nearly thirty years later (1973) with an
additional $6.2 million. The county has said again and again that
they need to protect this "corpus" of the account but this is
incorrect - the corpus is not just this amount, but the $2 million
plus all the income the account received from 1944 until the gift by
Vanderbilt's daughter. That is the real "corpus" - and we have long
ago gone through that money.
the late 1990's the account had grown substantially (almost $17
million) but the county continued to allow the museum to draw very
large amounts because they "needed it." Here is where the rest of us
would be on the street if it were our own money and we drew as much
money as the Vanderbilt did. No question the accounts were making
good returns, but here is the clincher - no matter whether you are
making money or losing money - a museum should never draw more than
4-6% (an average of 5%) per year from their investments. This is for
two important reasons - (1) less of a draw means stronger growth of
the account over time - and (2) this growth means that the museum
will be able to enlarge its draw over time because the account will
compound in value and will thereby provide more income. It seems no
one at the museum or the county understood this, or they ignored it.
county's own report bears this out. Essentially, its says that as
long as we don't reach the assigned "corpus" value of the account,
the museum can draw whatever it needs. Whoah - here it is - so the
county is saying we don't need to worry, it is not our money, let
them do what they want. Lets' really look at this: In 2007 the
museum was drawing $1.2 million dollars a year on an account worth
about $12 million. The numbers simply do not add up. To draw $1.2
million dollars a year you would need the investments to have a
total value in excess of $24 million if you were drawing the 5% a
year which is recommended by every individual who has any
understanding of the management of museum endowments.
This is bad financial management and may even be criminal if you are
acting as a trustee for an institutional account. How so you ask?
Trustees can be sued for mismanagement of trust accounts and museum
collections in general. Trustees are personally responsible for
losses - and can be forced to personally pay them back if they sat
by and took no real action to avoid them. As it is stated in New
York State's Right From the Start: Responsibilities of Directors
and Officers of Not-for-Profit Corporations:
"Whatever their mission or size, all organizations should have
policies and procedures established so that (1) boards and officers
understand their fiduciary responsibilities, (2) assets are managed
properly and (3) the charitable purposes of the organization are
carried out. A failure to meet these obligations is a breach of
fiduciary duty and can result in financial and other liability for
the board of directors and the officers."
we have a county not doing its part - what about the trustees of the
museum proper? Well, until the 1980's the museum had a politically
appointed board that did little, if anything, to protect the museum.
Since that time a real board has been in place - but is unclear if
it has done anything to actually make the institution more solvent.
The purchase of Normandy Manor - a former part of the estate - is a
case in point. The trustees wanted it but do not have appear to have
had a concrete idea of what to do with it (they said it would make
money as a wedding/event destination). At a cost of $3 million
dollars it has never been open to the public, does not appear to
have hosted any events, and houses only offices at present.
what does this all really mean? It means you, I, and every other
taxpayer is going to be on the hook for the problems at the
Vanderbilt. The $800,000 voted on this year will have to become an
annual allotment of money - and that is what no one in county
government or the museum wants to admit. There simply is no way to
make up the kind of deficit with which we are now presented with the
Vanderbilt trust accounts so low.
should Suffolk County be sued for its part in this debacle? Should
the officers and trustees of the museum be sued for their bad
decisions? I leave that up to the many lawyers who reside in our
county. What is true is that today the museum's physical plant will
continue to suffer; the collection will continue to deteriorate; the
many employees at the Vanderbilt Museum will be left to wonder if
they will have a place to work; and the people of Suffolk County
will be left to wonder if this museum will be available to future
generations of residents.
Geoffrey K. Fleming, LIMA President