Museums are the preservers of our cultural heritage. Museums have important social values and cultural values. For this reason the deaccession of museum objects is a disputable subject in the Netherlands. Museum directors, other professionals, the government and the media mention different arguments for and against deaccession. The perspectives on deaccession differ, because people base their arguments on different beliefs and moral principles, i.e. values. There are for instance people who reject the deaccession of museum objects, because we should preserve our cultural heritage for our future generations. These people are inclined to the social values of museum collections. On the contrary, there are people that perceive deaccession as a tool to improve the quality and strength of the collection. In that case cultural values lead to the acceptance of deaccession. Interesting, however, is the fact that in the literature and in the museum field economic values seem to be absent in the conversation about deaccession. The question is whether economic values are simply less important than social and cultural values or if economic values are denied, as in most of the art world?
After starting of with a literature research, the assumption is that economic values must be at stake in case of deaccession. Museums are stimulated to be entrepreneurial, efficient, market-oriented and income-seeking. Museum professionals must be aware of the high costs, including the high opportunity costs, of the preservation of our cultural heritage, especially during a time of economic crisis. Although the ethical code for museums and other guidelines for the museum field reject the importance of economic values, many cases of deaccession in the past have shown that museum directors are rational, economic human beings.
The empirical research of this master thesis did also confirm this assumption. I have talked to the museum directors of ‘Museum Het Valkhof’, ‘Zeeuws maritiem muZEEum’, ‘Frans Hals Museum’, ‘Naturalis - Nationaal Historisch Museum’ and ‘Museum Beelden aan Zee’. Four out of five museum directors portrayed economic values. They actually talked extensively about the surplus value of their museum and collection, the market value of museum objects, the opportunity costs of preservation, the influence of limited financial means, the sale of objects for the highest price, the use of auctions, the financial and managerial burdens of collecting, the efficient use of money, the efficient use of space and the efficiency of deaccession. Economic values are important therefore in the conversation about deaccessioning museum objects and should receive more attention. Even so, economic values are not the most important. All museum directors are in the end mostly inclined to the value of their museum to society and to the quality of their collection. Economic values are, however, a necessary mean to accomplish these social and cultural ends.