In February 2011, as censorship of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, provoked deep controversy nationwide, the NCAC and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics convened a group of arts professionals, consultants, and First Amendment lawyers for a closed policy session. The goal was to brainstorm on ways to become pro-active on issues of artistic and curatorial freedom and to reverse a cycle of politically motivated accusations and censorship still assaulting many art institutions.
The result is a new set of best museum practices. At a minimum, this document offers art institutions embroiled in controversy procedures and guidelines to secure, among other things, time for the thoughtful and deliberate consideration and consultation with key stakeholders. It sketches out how such procedures prevent the immediate removal of work in response to outside pressure, and it helps establish support for museums that are willing to mount provocative, potentially controversial exhibitions.
This is the process by which NCAC and the Vera List Center arrived at the document: A nation-wide examination of existing museum guidelines yielded a first crop of issues, languages and propositions. The resulting master document was circulated among museum directors and other arts and educational and media professionals for feedback. In the fall of 2011, a working group convened with representatives of NCAC, the Vera List Center, Americans for the Arts, the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums), the Association of Art Museum Curators, the College Art Association, the Association of Art Museum Directors, as well as individual museum directors and academics. The Association of Academic Museums and Galleries joined the team in the spring of 2012. Over the course of several meetings and further outreach, they developed the final version of the Best Museum Practices document.