The Next Casualty of America's Financial Crisis: Art

My friend Karen Chernick, a Brandeis University alum, speaks about how her alma mater betrays the very principles on which it was founded.

Has America's culture eroded so deeply since the recent financial crisis, that national treasures are now being auctioned off to the highest bidder? Here are Karen's thoughts:

Having grown up as the daughter of a Brandeis University alumnus (Dr. Robert Chernick, '76), I have always been proud of my academic heritage - both before and after my own graduation from Brandeis in 2006. The decision made this week by the Board of Trustees and the manner in which it was determined and announced, however, have caused me to be deeply ashamed of the alma mater whose values I, until recently, held in such high regard.

The decision to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its entire 8000 work art collection is a short sighted solution to the current financial crisis. The decision not only betrays Brandeis University's core academic mission but also neglects its responsibility as an institution of higher learning to preserve our cultural heritage and further its research. Moreover, this act has already tainted the previously esteemed reputation of the university in the eyes of the public, of other educational institutions, of future students, and of future professors, and will forever damage its fundraising ability.

To claim that the sale of the Rose Art Museum's collection would not damage the academic mission of the university reveals a shockingly gross misunderstanding of its integrality to the fine arts curriculum on the part of the Board of Trustees. No other facility is more integral to the fine arts at Brandeis and no amount of verbal sugarcoating can conceal the true nature of this act. The Rose Art Museum is the most prized lecture hall, seminar room, library, and laboratory of the Fine Arts department. It is the equivalent of robbing the science departments of their microscopes or the English Department of its books. As such, this act can only be read as a statement on behalf of the Board of Trustees that it values fine arts education significantly less than it values other academic departments. I should hope that as a liberal arts university this distinction would never be made.

The academic catalogue surveying the entire Rose Art Museum collection that is currently being prepared for publication in 2010 testifies to the cultural and instructional significance of the museum's holdings. As one of the strongest collections of 20th century art in New England (if not the absolute finest), the first hand availability to students of works by illustrious artists such as Cezanne, Picasso, Warhol, Motherwell, Rauschenberg and de Kooning (to name a limited few) is unparalleled. As a university that is a self proclaimed supporter of the arts, Brandeis has a responsibility to its students to preserve this cultural landmark.

On a personal level, my own education at Brandeis as an art history major would not have been complete without the Rose Art Museum, which is one of the facilities that drew me to the university in the first place. More than my work in the classroom, it was the hands-on research that I did with the Rose Art Museum collection for my senior honors thesis and the curatorial mentorship that the museum facilitated that distinguished my education from Brandeis University. It was the experience that I acquired with that exceptional institution that led me to be hired as the director of a large art historical research project immediately upon graduation and which fueled my desire to enroll in a doctoral program in art history. I feel deeply betrayed to learn of the Board of Trustee's ignorance of one of Brandeis's most educationally - not fiscally - treasured assets. In stating that the sale of the Rose Art Museum collection will allow Brandeis to "focus and sustain its core academic mission," the Board of Trustees and President Reinharz are singlehandedly discrediting the education of every fine arts graduate of the university.

It is for these reasons that I join countless alumni who pledge to withhold support of Brandeis University until the decision to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its art collection is reversed.

Karen Chernick (Brandeis '06) is Director of the Reuven Rubin Catalogue Raisonné Project and a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU