“From a legal point of view, they agree not to sell the art. They have no intention to sell the art,” says Jonathan Lee, who with Meryl Rose and Lois Foster sued the school in July 2009–Gerald Fineberg subsequently joined the plaintiffs–to halt Brandeis administrators’ plan, announced that January, to close the museum and sell its collection as the Waltham school faced financial problems.
“It is a statement saying we have no intention to sell the art,” says Frederick M. Lawrence, who began work as Brandeis’s president in January. He called it a “great day” for Brandeis and the Rose Museum.
“We do have a settlement,” Rose says. “It’s not a perfect agreement, but it basically says they’re not going to sell art. That’s the thing we were fighting for.”
Lee says the agreement goes beyond what they’d asked from Brandeis, which was just that it adhere to American museum standards for deaccessioning of art. And despite the 2009 threat from Brandeis leaders, the museum remains open (renovations are going on this summer) and the school says it didn’t end up selling any of the Rose collection between then and now.
“What made the change is a brand new [Brandeis] administration,” Lee says. “The other administration had dug into one course.” Since then Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz announced plans to close the Rose and sell its collection in 2009, there has been an administrative exodus from the school, including Reinharz, Chief Operating Officer Peter French, Vice President of Financial Affairs Maureen Murphy, and Dean of Admissions Gil Villanueva. Provost Marty Kraus also stepped down, though after a sabbatical she is expected to continue to teach at Brandeis.
Lawrence says, “I think the major thing was a focus on the future, not on the past.” He also notes that “the economic circumstances of Brandeis–and the whole world–are much different” from early days of the Great Recession that began nearly three years ago. Brandeis’s endowment has returned close to its all time high and the school’s budget is, though not completely free of challenges, at least stable, he says.
After he became Brandeis president in January, Lawrence began having conversations with some of the plaintiffs that lead to the final agreement, which he says was accepted by the Suffolk Probate and Family Court in Boston yesterday. Lee says he was notified when Lawrence called him this morning. “Obviously I’m extremely happy,” Lee tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. “We’ve managed to preserve this outstanding collection of modern art in New England for future generations.” Lee said the suit has helped bring international attention to the value of such historic collections: “These are longterm assets for society and you just don’t sell them off because you’ve got an operating problem.”
“Hopefully they’ll put money back into the museum, and hire good people, and take care of the art,” Rose says. “I think the new president has his heart in the right place and wants to do the right thing.”
Last September, Brandeis announced that it had launched a search for a new director for the Rose. The last director was Michael Rush, who was pushed out by Brandeis in June 2009. Since then, Roy Dawes has overseen the museum and organized exhibitions as director of museum operations. Lawrence says, “I never thought it would be impossible” to hire a director with the litigation ongoing, but “it would be vastly preferable” to have the case resolved. He hopes that with the lawsuit settled that “the search can really ramp into high gear.”
Lee said he was impressed when Lawrence “said to me, ‘If you don’t understand the aesthetic of modern art, you don’t understand Brandeis.’” Lawrence tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research that the identity and ethos of the school, which was founded in 1948 as a nonsectarian university under the sponsorship of the American Jewish community, comes out of post World War II modernism.
“We’ve got a guy who understands the role of this collection for Brandeis,” Lee says.
Update 12:15 p.m.
Brandeis just released the following statement:
Brandeis, plaintiffs settle Rose Art Museum lawsuit
Parties agree to focus on the future of the important cultural treasure
Brandeis University and four Rose Art Museum supporters who filed suit two years ago against the university over its handling of the museum during the financial crisis have settled the case and say they are now focused on the future of one of the region’s greatest cultural treasures.
As a result, the claims of plaintiffs Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee, Lois Foster and Gerald Fineberg have been dismissed in Suffolk Probate and Family Court in Boston. On June 20, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General terminated its review of Brandeis.
“This is a very good day for Brandeis and the Rose Art Museum and people who care deeply about both,” said President Fred Lawrence. “The Rose is and will remain an active and valued part of Brandeis. We are thrilled that this is behind us and we look forward to celebrating the museum’s 50th anniversary this fall.”
The settlement agreement, which brings to an end all claims concerning management of the Rose and the potential sale of artwork, states that the Rose is, and will remain a university art museum open to the public and that Brandeis has no plan to sell artwork.
The agreement reiterates the university’s policy, adopted by a vote of the board of trustees in March, 2010, that the Rose Art Museum will remain a university museum open to the public and that it will be better integrated into the educational mission of the university.
The origins of the dispute stretch back to January 2009, when the board of trustees, in the midst of a historic economic downturn, voted to authorize the sale of artwork if necessary – a move that sparked widespread and prolonged controversy. However, the university sold no artwork and 13 months ago Brandeis announced it would explore a range of alternatives to the sale of art as a means of realizing value from a portion of the collection while maintaining ownership of the artwork.
Malcolm L. Sherman, chairman of the Brandeis Board of Trustees, called the settlement “an outstanding resolution of a difficult community issue.”
The agreement notes that the settlement followed “a series of constructive and collegial conversations about the Rose Art Museum and its future,” between President Lawrence and the plaintiffs.
“We’re very pleased that the case has been settled,” said Roy Dawes, director of museum operations at the Rose Art Museum. “It is another important step forward for the Rose and we look forward to bringing new and vibrant contemporary art to the community.”
Allen Alter, former head of the Brandeis Alumni Association and a current university trustee, added: “This is great news for our alumni, who treasure the Rose and take pride in it as part of the Brandeis experience, for them and for future students.”
The agreement also reaffirms that Brandeis will continue its search for a new museum director. A search committee was named last year to fill that position, which will carry the title of the Henry and Lois Foster Director of the Rose Art Museum.
The museum, which houses New England’s preeminent collection of modern and contemporary American art, currently is undergoing extensive renovations, funded by Gerald and Sandra Fineberg, to enhance the appearance of the original building, to make it more energy efficient and to create a better physical environment for the collection. The work is scheduled to be completed this fall in time for the 50th anniversary exhibition.