Loaning Your Items to a Museum? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Loaning to a museum

I recently stumbled upon an article that raised the question: “Is it ever okay for a museum to sell some of its works for financial reasons?” And the answer? Well, according to the American Alliance of Museums’ Code of Ethics, the answer is a murky yes―as long as the proceeds from the sale “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.” Institutions deemed to have violated AAM’s Code of Ethics risk losing accreditation. Not only that, but what message do such “sales” send to a museum’s financial donors and potential donors of artifacts, artworks, etc.?

Such uncertainty is one reason why many collectors choose to loan their collections to museums versus donating them. All of this got me thinking. If I were to loan my artifacts to a museum, what precautions should I take to ensure their safe return?

Hire a Lawyer

As a lender, you will need to familiarize yourself with the basic legal issues surrounding a museum loan agreement. The National Law Review provides an overview of key loan provisions and issues that should be considered before entering into such an agreement.

You should also consult with an attorney prior to entering into any agreement. Typically, an estate planning attorney will be the most qualified for this type of work. Keep in mind that the museum will typically provide the lender with a pre-written loan agreement. Although a lawyer most likely drafted the loan agreement, it wasn’t yours!

Specify Your Requirements

Always remember that you’re lending YOUR artifacts and that YOUR requests and requirements are paramount to those of the museum. And the more rare and in-demand your artifacts are, the more leverage you will have with such requests.

For example, here are a few common requests that lenders ask for in a loan agreement:

  • Loaned items are credited to the lender while on exhibit
  • Where you would like to see your items displayed within the museum
  • Special care and display instructions regarding lighting, temperature, humidity, etc.
  • Whether or not visitors will be permitted to photograph your items
  • At the conclusion of the loan, the exhibit description card is gifted to the lender

When working with your attorney, ensure that all of your wants and concerns are properly addressed in the loan agreement (along with the other items discussed in this article). Although contracts can be tedious, attack this process with a fierce attention to detail!

Prepare a Detailed Museum Loan Agreement

In nearly every instance, the museum will provide you with a loan agreement. As mentioned in the first section, remember that the agreement was written by a lawyer – just not your lawyer.

The loan agreement is a binding contract between you and the institution. The agreement needs to contain information about the objects, venues, and people involved in the loan. Such information will directly relate to the terms and conditions of the loan.  

The Museums Association, the British equivalent to the American Alliance of Museums, provides a thorough overview of a sound loan agreement – along with a detailed explanations of relevant terms and conditions.

Along with the loan agreement, you should strongly consider including the most recent appraisal values and condition reports of the items your lending. Such documentation will help ensure that you are properly compensated in the unfortunate event of damage or theft. This brings us to the topic of insurance.

Secure “Door-to-Door” Insurance

In addition to your collectible and/or homeowner’s insurance, the museum should also provide “door-to-door” or “wall-to-wall” insurance coverage for your items. This ensures that your items are covered from the moment they leave your possession until the moment they’re back in your hands.


When discussing insurance coverages with the museum, you should also request full replacement value; not market value, of your items. A reputable museum should be prepared to address this and your insurance requests. 

Protect Your Items from Seizure

When lending cultural artifacts and fine art, you must ensure that your items will not come under legal scrutiny. Situations where this arises may be something as simple as an ownership dispute when a bill of sale cannot be produced or when an item may be subject to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979.  

For those not familiar with ARPA, it forbids anyone from excavating or removing archaeological resources from federal or Indian land without a permit from a land managing agency. ARPA also forbids any sales, purchase, exchange, transport, or receipt. Those who violate can face substantial fines and even a jail sentence if convicted. They will also confiscate any object that has been declared as an archaeological resource.

RELATED ARTICLE: Digging Into U.K and U.S. Archaeological Laws

Another consideration is the Immunity from Judicial Seizure Statute (22 U.S.C. 2459). This statute provides “Immunity from seizure under judicial process of cultural objects imported for temporary exhibition or display.” For example, if you’ve followed the “Hobby Lobby Artifact Smuggling” case, they failed to properly verify the artifact’s chain of custody and also failed to properly declare the items’ country of origin at the time of importation into the United States. When submitting culturally sensitive items with origins outside of the United States, the museum should apply to the U.S. Department of State to determine if the object is protected under Statute 22. If so, such protections will immunize the object from the judicial process.


Once you’ve satisfied the considerations stated above, you should immediately store all documentation associated with the loan.

Document storage

Securely store important documents inside your member account.

For example, using your account, you can upload and store the following documents:

  • Signed copies of the loan agreement
  • Photographs and descriptions of the loaned items
  • Most recent appraisal values and condition reports
  • Insurance policies

Is It Worth It?

While the considerations listed above may seem cumbersome, museum loans provide many benefits to you and others. As a lender, you’re able to serve the public good by making your artifacts and artworks available for others to enjoy and learn from. And by putting your name and objects in the public domain, you’ll have the opportunity to meet others who share the same interests as you.

If you decide to loan your items to a museum, we hope we’ve been able to make the process a little bit easier for you! Updates

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