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Deaccessioning and Donor Intent – Lessons Learned from Fisk’s Stieglitz Collection

Cooper, Robert

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper discussed his state’s experience with Fisk University’s attempt to deaccession a portion of its art collection featuring the work of Georgia O’Keefe. Fisk sought to monetize a number of items in the collection despite O’Keefe’s stated intention in donating the art that it would never be sold. Cooper described his office’s actions in the Fisk case, art/museum industry standards with regard to deaccessioning, the guidepost of donor intent, and the responsibilities of attorneys general in protecting the public interest concerning restricted charitable gifts. He also highlighted some lessons to be learned from litigation around donor intent and deaccessioning, including the relevance of the passage of time, the form in which donor intent is expressed, the role of a donor’s heirs/successors in litigation, and the navigation of multiple federal and state laws that may apply in a case crossing state lines.

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