Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Restricted Access (SIA Only)

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Fine and Decorative Art and Design

First Advisor

Elizabeth Pergam

Second Advisor

Ann-Marie Richard


Deaccessioning is the process of officially removing an item from the listed holdings of a library, museum, or art gallery, typically in order to sell it to raise funds. Since the 1970s, deaccessioning has become a topic of debate in the museum field. While it is typically an accepted practice there are some situations in which it is frowned upon, causing contention amongst museum professionals and the public. This thesis will focus particularly on mid-size institutions for whom deaccessioning can make a large difference in the museum’s collections, storage, or daily management. The overarching question that this thesis will attempt to answer is, “At what point does the survival of an institution outweigh the importance of the museum community’s code of ethics?” In order to answer that question, this paper will consider many related questions, such as, “Why do museums deaccession?” “What are the accepted practices for deaccessioning, and can they be changed to help institutions survive in the twenty-first century?”and “How much control should the governing bodies of American museums have over the deaccessioning process?” This thesis will briefly explore the beginning of museum culture, the history of collecting, and how the focus of museum collections has changed with the evolving cultural climate. The history of removing objects from museum collections is fundamental to understanding the current arguments for and against deaccessioning, and this thesis will consider the various ways that museums have disposed of objects in the past. This paper will also consider the criteria put forward by the American Association of Museums for how and when deaccessioning may occur, as well as how those policies have been applied and can be applied differently in the future. In conclusion, this thesis will look at a few notable case studies that display how museums are coping with deaccessioning in the twenty-first century.