Skip to content

Task Force on Direct Care


Spring 2016: Direct Care White Paper Released

May 29, 2015

The Direct Care Task Force met during the Alliance annual meeting in Atlanta to discuss the results of the opinion survey conducted in February and to frame the forthcoming White Paper. Their lively and thoughtful discussions covered discipline-specific issues, philosophies, and viewpoints, and frequently went back to the topic of financially motivated deaccessioning. Representatives from New Knowledge, the non-profit think tank and planning group that conducted the survey for AAM, presented their findings and analysis of the data.

A very broad range of museum types and job functions were represented by the survey’s 1258 respondents:

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents identified their primary role in the museum industry as responsible for Collections (74.1%) while a quarter (24.4%) hold executive office. Nearly all the remaining respondents hold primary roles that are either executive or managerial; a handful are in other roles.

The types of museums participating broke down as:  History 32%; Art 28%; Specialized, Multi-disciplinary or visitor center 17%;  Natural History 11%; Science/Technology 5%; Arboretum/ Botanical or Public Garden 4%; Children’s / Youth 2%; Aquarium/Zoo 1%.

Before seeing the results, the Task Force hypothesized that a respondent’s position in an organization and the discipline of participating institutions would influence the outcome of the survey. However, the analysis found no statistical differences. In examining both the open-ended responses and general ratings, it appears that respondents were most likely considering their audience, the Alliance, and answering altruistically as professionals in the field rather than as representatives of a particular disciplinary viewpoint.

Survey results showed 1) a few areas of consensus from a statistical perspective and 2) a vast gray area.  The most common of the open-ended final comments expressed appreciation for the timeliness of the survey and the need for resolving the parameters for direct care.  As a result, the Task Force focused on identifying guiding principles and criteria for decision-making, not creating a definitive yes/no list or a singular definition of “direct care.”

The survey results provided the Task Force with a useful scan of the attitudes on the issue of direct care and acquisition costs, from a wide variety of viewpoints.  They will inform the White Paper to be released in the spring of 2016. The Task Force agreed that the White Paper should not be prescriptive but should clarify the ethical issues surrounding the topic of direct care and provide guidance for museums in their decision-making.

Learn more about the Task Force members and charge below.

March 9, 2015

Thanks to everyone who participated in AAM’s Direct Care Survey. Museum standards and ethics dictate that funds from the sale of deaccessioned collections be used for acquisition or direct care/preservation of collections. Many are confused by the term “direct care.” We received more than 1,200 responses to the survey, a clear indication that this is an issue of much interest in the field. Given this tremendous response, the Task Force will need time to analyze the findings and the large number of comments before reporting out. The Task Force will meet at the AAM Annual Meeting in Atlanta to review the results and begin to identify issues. It will continue to work over the rest of the year to formulate guidance for the field on generally accepted uses of proceeds shared by all disciplines and those specific to each discipline. The Task Force plans to issue a white paper before AAM’s 2016 annual meeting, but will offer some top line findings in the next few months.

History and Rationale

At the request of the Accreditation Commission, the Alliance Board of Directors approved the formation of a Direct Care Task Force during its May 2014 meeting. The commission and board believe that providing clarity on the use of deaccessioning proceeds, specifically on what is generally accepted as a definition of direct care, is a top priority for the field.

The phrase “direct care” first appeared in the AAM Code of Ethics in 1993. The phrase, however, has never been defined or clarified, resulting in gray areas, inconsistent application of standards and lack of guidance to museums for their decision making. Almost weekly the Alliance receives inquiries from museums, the media and the public asking about the standards applicable to the use of proceeds from deaccessioning. Clear answers are challenging because ethics, standards and acceptable practices vary among disciplines.

Task Force Charge

The cross-disciplinary task force is charged with:

  • Gathering data to find out how museums of different disciplines use proceeds from deaccessioning and how they define “direct care”
  • Compiling a list of generally accepted uses of proceeds shared by all disciplines and those specific to each discipline
  • Evaluating the ethics underlying current standards and practices and advancing the thinking on this topic
  • Issuing a white paper with task force findings and recommendations, endorsed by the key discipline-specific organizations

The task force is interested in hearing from the field and plans to launch a survey as a first step in February 2015. The Task Force will convene in Atlanta during AAM’s 2015 annual meeting to discuss the survey results and frame the white paper. Following ongoing input from the discipline-specific organizations, the Task Force plans to release its findings and recommendations in a white paper at AAM’s 2016 annual meeting. The Task Force will then conduct outreach to inform and educate the field about the findings.


Sally Yerkovich, chair of the task force, is director of the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University and faculty in the M.A. Program in Museum Professions.

The Alliance collaborated with the discipline-specific organizations to identify individuals who can represent a variety of perspectives on the task force. Members are:

  • Kathy Kelsey Foley, director, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI
  • Sarah George, executive director, Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Patty Gerstenblith, distinguished research professor and director, Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, IL
  • Ron Kagan, director, Detroit Zoo, Detroit, MI
  • Lisa Yun Lee, director, School of Art and Art History, University of Illinois, and Alliance board member, Chicago, IL
  • Burt Logan, executive director and CEO, Ohio History Connection, and chair, Accreditation Commission, Columbus, OH
  • Tom Mayes, deputy general counsel, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC
  • Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA
  • David Rock, director of exhibits and collections management, Arizona Science Center, Phoenix, AZ
  • Stacey Swigart, curator of collections, Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
  • Tim Thibault, curator of Woody Collections, Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA
  • Ken Turino, manager of community engagement and exhibitions, Historic New England, Boston, MA
  • Janet Vaughan, vice president, membership & programs, American Alliance of Museums, Arlington, VA
  • Julie Hart, senior director, standards & excellence programs, American Alliance of Museums, Arlington, VA

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.