"Direct care" and Conservation

Starting today, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is conducting an online survey on “direct care,” an issue of extreme relevance to conservators and one that could have a major impact on the future of the conservation field.
As most conservators are aware, deaccessioning museum objects is a complicated topic.  Currently the AAM’s Code of Ethics says: “disposal of collections through sale, trade or research activities is solely for the advancement of the museum’s mission. Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum’s discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.”
While it is commonly understood that funds from deaccessioning should not be used for normal operating expenses, what does the term “direct care” mean?  Does “direct care” mean conservation, and if so, could these funds be spent on conservation treatments?  Or does “direct care” only mean preventive conservation?  Either way, does “direct care” include conservation salaries?  Because the term “direct care” is vague, the AAM has established the Direct Care Task Force to clarify the term and make new recommendations.  Of course, each museum may have its own, more specific, guidelines and procedures.  And while the AASLH also allows for money from the deaccessioning to be spent on “preservation,” the AAMD has stricter guidelines, allowing only for money to be spent on new acquisitions.
What does this have to do with conservation?  If the definition of “direct care” were expanded to explicitly include conservation, more funding would potentially be available for conservation.  But deaccessioning is already ethically challenging; conservators don’t want to be put in a position of seeming to encourage deaccessioning or to violate our own code of ethics, with our primary goal being the preservation of cultural property.
This important issue calls for dialogue – both among conservators and with our museum colleagues.  AAM’s task force unfortunately does not include any conservators, so we must express our voice in other ways.
AAM Direct Care Task Force
AAM Code of Ethics: