Are you thinking of donating something to a museum? Here are some of the most common questions donors ask.
Do I give up ownership of an artifact when I donate it to a museum?
Yes. The formal donation paperwork, called a Deed of Gift, legally transfers ownership from the donor to the museum. It cannot be returned to the donor for any reason once the paperwork is signed. Even if the object is deaccessioned in the future, a museum is not permitted to return it to the donor, who has likely already taken a tax deduction for the donation. Deaccessioned artifacts are usually disposed of through an anonymous public auction. If you are unsure about donating an artifact, consider offering it as a loan instead. However, most museums do not accept artifacts for long term loans. Artifact loans are almost always for a specific exhibit over a defined period of time.
Can I get an appraisal value for my donation?
Museums are not permitted to provide appraisal values for donations. The Deed of Gift you receive serves as proof of your donation. For an appraisal, you will have to hire an appraiser. And yes, you will have to pay for it. At tax time, present your appraisal with the Deed of Gift as proof of your donation to receive your tax deduction.
Will my artifact always be on exhibit?
While the policy of each museum is different, generally the answer is no. Artifacts should not be continuously on view forever and ever, because they may be damaged over time by the light in the gallery. Certain artifacts will also be damaged from their own weight, depending on how they are displayed. Also, most museums like to rotate exhibits Ė or even the artifacts within permanent exhibits Ė to provide a new experience for returning visitors.
Can I come see the artifact any time I want, even if it isnít on exhibit?
Most museums welcome research visitors by appointment. If you would like to see an artifact you or your family donated, call ahead and find out if it is on exhibit. If it is not, you may be able to make an appointment with the curatorial staff to view the object privately.
Should I put a plaque on my artifact with my name on it before I donate it?
No. Attaching a plaque to an artifact ruins its historical integrity. All museum donations are recorded with the donorís name, so it will always be associated with you and your family. Placing a plaque on an artifact is not common practice in the museum profession. If the artifact is placed in a historic room setting, either in a historic house or a vignette in a more modern gallery space, a plaque breaks the spell. In real life, artifacts are not labeled in this way. You canít be transported back in time if there are plaques all over the exhibits. The appropriate place for donor information is on label placed near the artifact.