Our own András Szántó has just written an interesting article for the Art Newspaper on the purpose of museums; at least as proclaimed by those museums’ own mission statements. (You can watch a video of a related discussion, hosted by András at Art Basel Miami Beach here.) The article covers an analysis done by András and fellow Art world analyser Adam Levine of the mission statements of 60 museums around the US (you can see the accompanying Wordle graphic above) and seeks to draw conclusions about the state of strategic thinking at these grand institutions based on the words they did, or did not, use.
I think it is a fun premise and I like the comparison of the “refreshingly short” and eloquent statement from Akron Art Museum: “to enrich lives through modern art” with the tomes of MOMA, The National Gallery and Boston’s MFA. The latter three of course were developed and approved by large Boards; and you know what they say about anything done by committee. (Though to be fair, both MOMA and the National could have stopped at the end of their first sentences and done OK; while the MFA does a decent job with its last…) András then goes on to draw parallels with the ongoing transition of Museums trying to more proactively respond to their market places and suggests that woolly mission statements are a symptom of woolly thinking about the role of Museums in the modern world.
It is a reasonable inference but may be too harsh. Some people are just bad at being concise. And the bigger the board the less concise they will be. I do always admire any organisation (corporate or non-profit) that can encapsulate something important in a few words (so kudos to Akron) but just because they cannot explain simply what they do, doesn’t always mean they cannot do it. Take a look for yourself (the links are above) and then visit your local grand institution over the holidays and make-up your own minds. And if you feel so inclined do come back here and offer a comment. In the meantime: happy festivities to all from everyone here at ArtWorld Salon.