For all the good and wonder that art brings into our lives, the art industry has provided a lot of opportunities for crime and deceit (does anyone else remember The Thomas Crown Affair?). As such, the government is a little wary of people that want to privatize art museums, as they could lead to more crime and more deceit.
The survey asked the private museums about their opening hours, attendance figures, and the role of founders in everyday operations. After reviewing the survey’s results, the Committee found that private museums do operate on a wide spectrum with lots of variations. Some of them are open 40 hours a week, while others, just 20. Founders even played a very active role in the private museums, and as the contemporary art market has done increasingly well, private art museums are also doing very well.
However, worries that private art museums create opportunities for tax evasion persist. Orrin Hatch, senior Republican senator and the chairman of the Committee, is apprehensive. “Despite the good work that is being done by many private museums, I remain concerned that this area of our tax code is ripe for exploitation,” he wrote in a summary of the survey’s findings.
These words could be troubling to anyone hoping to set up their own private museum. Private museums have been not been tax-exempt since 1987. Stephen Urice, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, believes that the Committee’s inquiry into private museums’ taxes could help weed out “bad apples” who are only interested in setting up a museum to do bad things.
Of the 11 museums surveyed, four of them have more than 6,000 annual visitors; nine do not charge admission fees; ten have active loan programs; and none had reports of loans of donated art back to the founders. Some museums, like Glenstone in Maryland, are trying to get ahead of the inquiry curve by being as transparent as possible—its founders requested clarification from the IRS in 2012 to see whether an expansion plan and land use were indeed in accordance with tax codes.
So while private museums do a lot of good for their communities and allow passionate people to celebrate what they love, the jury is still out for the US Senate. There will likely be more inquiries to come, and more findings to illuminate the picture of private museums in the United States.