Should a university’s art collection be treated as a financial asset?

A bill being discussed in the Iowa Legislature would require the University of Iowa to sell the centerpiece of its art collection, an 8-by-20-foot painting by Jackson Pollock. Legislators argue that the painting, with an estimated value of $140 million, should go to fund scholarships for students. Today’s Question: Should a university’s art collection be treated as a financial asset?

  • Phil

    It all depends on how the University or other public institution acquired the asset. In this time of extreme fiscal crisis in public education, states need all the donors they can get. This could be a sure fire way to end donations once and for all.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Only if you believe that the price a thing will fetch on the open market is the most important measure of its value.

  • Rose

    There are really 2 questions in the opening statement:

    Is the art collection an asset? Yes, as with other institutions, companies and trusts, the collection must be treated as an asset.

    Should the university be “forced” to sell it’s art assets?

    It depends… on many factors. A cost / benefit analysis must be completed identifying various alternatives and outcomes; then the University’s Board must make the difficult decision.

  • No it shouldn’t- we need real solutions to education funding in this country and selling off an art collection, especially something like a Mural might well produce a short term gain, but it will to the long term detriment of all, especially as it would be a temporary measure at best. We need thoughtful, vigorous debate on education reform and real solutions to the problem of ever increasing tuition. Have a fire sale with any University’s art collection is myopic idiocy masquerading as public policy- and doesn’t actually offer a real solution at all.

  • Tony

    First define the goal. If the goal is to improve the state, this idea would have the dual negative effects of hurting those who can least afford it while simultaneously retarding the state’s ability to produce college-educated citizens.

    I think the question comes from the state’s budget problems.

    In the quest to solve those problems the answer has to be either more revenue, less spending, or some combination of the two.

    When the focus is on searching for more revenue, one place to look might be universities.

    The decision to treat a university’s art collection as an asset is just a disingenuous vehicle designed to generate the question “Should we tax universities?”.

    If you do tax universities they will just raise tuition to cover the new tax cost imposed.

    The net effect of that will be to further financially hurt those who can least afford it. Less Minnesotans affording college means less Minnesotans graduating from college.

    It’s time to embrace a better solution. Tax the rich. They can afford it, they should pay it, they will always grouse about it and they’ll still be rich. Transferring some of the load from the weakest to the strongest is in everyone’s best interest.

  • Greg

    Yes. Assuming the cost of maintenance or conservation is covered. But not to be bluntly sold as a one time profit center – unless selling it provides greater access of the piece to the public. Find a way to “leverage” the collection – and not just for CASH. Exchange/loan it with other instutuions for shows, to provide art students with exposure to a wider “library” of resources, develop research on the pigments and materials, on the subject matter, on the models and their depiction of historic health ….. use art broadly.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Yes, A work of art should be considered an asset, with sale proceeds going to scholarships for economically disadvantaged students – a significant amount going to art students. Who do they think they are – the Vatican?

  • How about they sell the Pollock and lower tuition for residents and non-residents alike? Currently, Iowa’s non-resident room/board tuition is more than $32,000. (Minnesota’s is half that, and we charge non-residents about the same as we do our own kids, even though we are a land grant institution — I guess that’s another matter.) However, when I hear about the Pollock and its estimated worth, I have a difficult time reconciling it with their tuition.

  • Jo Ann Hendricks

    As a former visual art museum director, I can tell you that there are ethics to be followed. There should be a Collections Policy that has legal implications with the host university.

    Yes, collections gain in value, but unless they were purchased for the purpose of monetary gain (to be sold later) the collection is not an asset to be sold to finance operation expenses.

    It is rather short sited to sell collections to balance the budget of the university. Unethical and short sited. But, of course, when institutions get in financial binds, it is expected that the board members or populace will look anywhere for $$. Therefore it is up the board/populace to be informed and to protect the collection for the long term.

  • Torgy

    With all due respect, those rules are to be followed by museum art directors, not a university’s board of regents. I highly doubt that any intradisciplinary ethics rules governing an art museum’s accounting methods and maintenance of art would serve to trump public policy or the will of the people when it comes to a state university’s decision to forego $140 million in financial relief to its students in deference to a single piece of “abstract expressionist” artwork.

  • Kevin VC

    The unfortunate truth is most Universities are independent corporations…. And we all know corporations have no soul….. No sense of caring….

    The only way to control a corporation is a ‘soul’ transplant…. a artificially forced sense of conscience.

    Translation: laws, regulations, and requirements in general.

    And we all know the undead hate being forced to stand in the light….

  • Brian

    I think the decision should be up to the University of Iowa, and not to the Iowa Legislature. What is the value of the painting to the University, to its students and faculty? The University is much better positioned to determine that than the legislature.

    Given the unparalleled disparity of wealth in this country (and I assume Iowa) between the rich and the rest of us, perhaps the legislature could show some courage (not likely) and raise taxes on the wealthiest Iowans.