Whither now, Museums?
Those living in Europe are sometimes surprised by the shockwaves that private sector economic turmoil creates for Arts Institutions in the US. If you come from a region where large portions of a Museum’s budget comes from the public purse (in some countries it is all government funded) it can be eye-opening to learn that those well-funded US institutions that out-bid the Europeans at Auction are often largely privately supported. So an article in this week’s Art Newspaper by our own András Szántó is well-timed.
Private donors remain skittish. Corporate support is hard to find and ever more tightly tethered to marketing priorities. Public funding is jeopardised by imploding budgets and competing needs. Foundations, too, are smarting from losses. Some are rethinking their support for culture altogether. Venerable charities like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations no longer have divisions with “art” in their names. Museum income from tourists, members, publications, shops, rentals and restaurants is stagnant. It has been a perfect storm.
Whilst András is right to highlight the woes of incumbent institutions trying to fit existing plans into shrinking budgets, I wonder if some of this wasn’t inevitable? The hubris of recent years and the multitude of new small private museums seeded by privately amassed collections has spread curatorial resources rather thin and scattered good works into more buildings. Maybe we have too many institutions? András again.
Museums are joining forces more readily on publications and web projects, such as Artbabble, a kind of YouTube for art videos. But while content partnerships are proliferating, museums have stopped well short of the kind of consolidation that reshapes other distressed industries. “There is a pride factor that makes it very difficult to merge,” notes Maxwell Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
One hears a gentle sigh of relief around the globe, as the financial markets rebound, so this may all soon become academic. But I wonder… So what do you think? A disaster for Art Lovers everywhere? Or a much needed shake-up amongst our venerable institutions?