Cashing in on Culture: Betraying the Trust at the Rose Art Museum

Francine Koslow Miller, regular contributor to Sculpture and alumna of Brandeis University, was shocked to hear a couple of years ago that her beloved Rose Art Museum was scheduled to be shut down due to the economic crisis. Following the events that transpired since Brandeis University’s then-president, Jehuda Reinharz, announced the museum’s demise in January 2009, Miller has come out with a new book, tracing the history of the museum, how it almost shut down, and the community backlash that ultimately saved it.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Rose Art Museum is one of those rarities among university galleries. Rather than featuring shows that rotate between work coming out of university faculty and students and lesser-known up-and-coming artists, the Rose often lends its own permanent collection to major museums. Through generous donations over the years, the Rose has accumulated works by some of the greatest contemporary artists, including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, and Willem de Kooning. Needless to say, selling off this artwork would be both incredibly profitable for an economically unstable university and devastating to the local community.

In a fateful letter to the university community, Reinharz stipulated that the museum’s artworks were to be sold to cover operations costs. Yet, as Miller points out, the president somehow overlooked his own salary (over $700,000 at the time) as a part of the problem. Furthermore, after initial protests against closing the museum, Reinharz used the university’s emergency funds to hire an expensive public relations firm to try to convince people that closing the Rose was the best way to save the university from having to cut funding for certain academic departments and student scholarships. It seems that Reinharz just thought he could make some easy money by selling the collection. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t realize that the museum played an important part in the university and local art community at large.

It was quite a debacle, involving yelling, protests, lawsuits, ironic art projects, and “Save the Rose” t-shirts and buttons. In the end, though, art museum supporters prevailed. Reinharz stepped down as president, and the Rose’s unique art collection was saved from the auction block. According to Miller, the Rose will never really be the same, but there’s an important lesson to all this. Her incredibly thorough rendering will, hopefully, serve as a warning to future academic institutions that try to render the arts unimportant.

—Elena Goukassian

Book Description
Cashing in on Culture: Betraying the Trust at the Rose Art Museum
by Francine Koslow Miller
Tucson, AZ: Holart Books, 2012
240 pages, $17.50
ISBN: 978-1-936102-27-3

One response

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