Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance


Art, Architecture + Art History


Derrick Cartwright


The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) defines deaccessioning as “the process by which a work of art or other object is permanently removed from a museum’s collection.” Though deaccessions have occurred quietly throughout history, these practices have been recently thrust into the spotlight as art museums grapple with the unprecedented economic challenges of the 21st century. While monetizing the collection is legal, it is undoubtedly controversial, especially in light of the AAMD’s pandemic-prompted decision to suspend sanctions on museums that apply these funds towards operations. With today’s booming art market, deaccessioning may provide an attractive windfall to a struggling museum, but when utilized overzealously, it can contradict its charitable purpose and erode public trust. From the Berkshire Museum to the Metropolitan, the scores of institutions engaged in this activity emphasize the need for a balanced approach to resolving liquidity issues while preserving the collection’s integrity. This paper traces the origins of this practice in American museums and analyzes the myriad perspectives in the current deaccessioning debate. It examines the Baltimore Museum of Art, which drew praise for its sales of works by white male artists to finance more diverse acquisitions, and later criticism when it attempted to use deaccession funds to subsidize equity initiatives. Finally, I propose new approaches to the deaccessioning dilemma that prioritize proactive decision making and transparency. I find that shrewd deaccessioning strategies aligned with curatorial objectives can greatly enhance a museum’s fiscal health, community relevance and its role as a steward of cultural treasures.