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Statement on Supreme Judicial Court Ruling in Berkshire Museum Case

Category: Press Release


ARLINGTON, VA ─ The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community,  believes firmly that the sale of works from a museum’s collections to fund non-collection-related expenses is a violation of the public trust—and is not a path to financial sustainability. Yet this is exactly the misguided approach being pursued by the leadership of the Berkshire Museum.

The recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to approve the Berkshire Museum’s planned art sales addresses outstanding legal questions. It does not resolve the violations of ethical and professional standards that will occur when the Museum’s plans are implemented. Those are separate and distinct issues that are the purview of organizations such as ours, and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).

AAM’s standards and the Code of Ethics for Museums prohibit a museum from using the proceeds from sales from its collection to fund anything other than new acquisitions or direct care of the collection. We believe this is a critical issue of ethical conduct and best practice, one tied directly to the public trust. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make our cultural heritage available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole.

We are grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for its diligence in examining the public trust and donor intent issues raised by the Berkshire Museum case in such detail. It was an important process to pursue, even if we are ultimately disappointed with the legal outcome.

Notwithstanding the decision by the Court, AAM will continue to promote field-wide standards for collections stewardship, and to support museums in thoughtful decision-making that will secure the long-term well-being of their institutions and of the field.


About AAM:

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit

Press contact:

Joseph Klem

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