Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Michael Rush to present "The War of the Rose: A Cautionary Tale" at Appalachian State

While catching up on some museum news this evening I came upon a press release from Appalachian State University announcing an upcoming lecture, "The War of the Rose: A Cautionary Tale" by Michael Rush, the former director of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum. In 2009, the University attempted to liquidate the Rose's exceptional art collection to help Brandeis weather the financial firestorm in which it found itself. From the initial announcement of the University's plan, Michael Rush fought the proposal and worked to defend the Rose.

The unprecedented attempt by a university to harvest its museum's collection (valued by experts at $350 million) as a cash cow, touched off an incredible backlash from professionals in the fine art and museum worlds. Since the beginning of the Brandeis-Rose saga in 2009, other museums have floated plans to monetize their collections as untapped wells of fiscal stability amidst the unstable economic climate, and most have received a chilly response from the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Association of Museums and similar organizations for whom professional standards are more than mere guidelines.

I wish I could make it to "App" State next week to attend Michael Rush's lecture, as I think it would be enlightening to hear from someone who lived through the worst kind of fiscal crisis, and yet maintained his position of professional integrity on behalf of his museum, its collection, and its patrons, ultimately costing him his job.

Rarely in today's world do we find those who fight the good fight, come what may, because it is the right the thing to do. Even when the alternative is intolerable, far too many of our leaders back down from a challenge, turn away from the path of integrity, and sacrifice their ethics to strike a distasteful accord with powerful, opposing factions. I know nothing of Dr. Rush's personality, but I do know that the Rose Art Museum is still open on Brandeis' campus. Though Michael Rush is no longer its director, I am sure that the museum's existence today is due in no small part to his insistence on its survival in the face of incredible odds, and I will count him among our profession's champions for his work to save the Rose.

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