There are a number of colleges and universities who have exhibits and collections as their special offerings to students and the public. I'm thinking particularly about art collections. Yet in these tight times for higher education, those institutions may tend to see the art hanging on their walls or in their museum collections as a way to salvage lagging income from foundations, alumnae and alumni, and the general public.
Instead of considering these invaluable learning opportunities as profound and important to the education of those in these institutions, they are at times viewed as cash cows. In one small Virginia college, where a museum on campus houses some of the finest examples of American art gathered in one site, this prostituting of the art is practiced, agreed upon by both the college administration and the Board of Trustees. At present, several are in the hands of Christie's waiting for good sales. One of the paintings, George Bellows' "Men of the Docks," the most valuable by far, is leaving Christie's for a tour of several art museums showing a Bellows collection. It will be in Washington, DC, New York City, and London.
The college is touting this as a wonderful gift to bring to the eyes of public, gaining recognition for the college. The other side of this matter, however, is that by sending the Bellows out with other works by the artist, it is a way to seek possible sales. I call this practice "pimping the arts." After Bellows, will other paintings still held by Christie's from that college museum be sent out seeking to bring millions of dollars as well into the coffers of the college?
In the meantime, students have been denied the power of seeing on a daily basis these wonderful works. To switch from using the art collection as an educational tool for both the college and the surrounding areas to appreciate, the practice is being used to bring in needed monies for the college. This action is condemned by the many art museum associations around the country, while the college administrators ignore the admonitions.
I find such behavior appalling and have made efforts to bring this treatment of art before the public. The story of this one small college is simply an example of what has taken place in some form or another in institutions elsewhere. Only a public outcry and withholding of donations to these institutions will have any positive effect. It is a disgrace for such to be done to our art treasures gathered for the enlightenment of the public and education for students.