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Re: "Raymond" the triceratops
Well, ask any art museum that has ever had an object on loan damaged or
detroyed or stolen, and they will tell you exactly what the risks are, in
GREAT detail. It's bad enough to assess and assume the risks on your own
material. To assume liability for someone else's is a legal nightmare.
It very much depends on the institution and the policies of it.
Exhibition of privately-owned items is one thing (and a real liability
headache in itself). Providing care for an object is wholly different.
Most museums are very much against the old system of long-term or
"permanent" loans for several of the reasons that Neil Clark describes.
Without ownership, you are in a very precarious legal situation if
interventive work is called for. The museum is seldom if ever reimbursed
for the costs of providing care, storage and documentation to something
that it does not own--and a museum is not a warehouse. There are very
often bad feelings about these situations, and, in this litigious
society, bad feelings lead to lawsuits.
I have written and reviewed many museum collections policies for natural
history collections, and I counsel museums not to accept "permanent
loans" or any donations with strings attached (i.e., it must be on
exhibit in perpetuity, etc.). There are many win-win ways of negotiating
loans and gifts with donors, but the museum really needs to have legal
ownership of items for which it is assuming a long-term responsibility.
So many things can go wrong--loss, deterioration, disaster--that the
museum is taking on a big responsibility any time it accepts even a
routine loan. To take that responsibility for someone else's assets--to
provide for those assets as if they belonged to the museum--is one route
to legal disaster. Obviously, there are always exceptions and always
There are people who provide insurance and appraisals for natural history
collections, but that may be no protection against a lawsuit. And most
conservators I know will not agree to work on material if they are being
asked to do so by anyone except the true legal owner. This can cause
great frustrations when a specimen needs work, but the owner and the
museum disagree on what that help should be and who should pay for it.
The loser in these cases is the specimen.
I recall an instance in this country a few years ago when a gentleman who
had donated a fossil to a large museum demanded it back on the grounds
that he had never meant to make it a gift and wanted his "loan" back. The
papers on file proved that it was indeed a gift, and it stayed with the
museum after--of course--legal hearings.
This is not a blanket defense of museums. In the SVP Outreach committee,
one of our concerns is working with public-trust collections to make sure
that they are responding to public needs through paleo education,
training, programs and reasonable access. This has been a big problem and
I already KNOW about it and I am trying to be a SOLVER of the problem, so
just put those flame-throwers down right now and reply to me off-list if
there is an incident you just have to tell me about. ;-) But Neil Clark
is right about museums and their responsibilities. It's sad in a way that
the litigious decade has led to the point where museums have to maintain
a high level of protection through policies and coverage, and that these
concerns may mean that we all have to either be or hire lawyers to vet
In short, it's complicated enough lending AND borrowing a specimen for an
exhibit when the duration and risks are known and everyone is willing to
sign on the dotted line. For a museum to take on long-term responsibility
for something it does not own is so risky that many just don't do it any
more without a forest of contracts and agreements.
Director, Collections Care and Conservation
San Diego Natural History Museum
| San Diego Natural History Museum |
| P. O. Box 1390 |
| San Diego, California 92112 USA |
| phone (619) 232-3821; FAX (619) 232-0248 |
| email LIBSDNHM@CLASS.ORG |
On Wed, 1 Mar 1995 AnmlPeople@aol.com wrote:
> Art museums quite commonly exhibit works that are owned by private
> collectors. This has gone on for centuries, and has proved to be an
> eminently workable system--why should it be different for fossils? --Merritt
> Clifton, editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE.