Monday, May 03, 2021

Are art galleries and museums a target for "cancel culture" or mob rule?

There appears to be a new "cancel culture" being applied to art galleries and museums.

Incidents and events promoting change

Last week the Museum of Modern Art in New York became the target of a group who want to protest about the influence of very rich people on the systems and values of art museums.

Specifically the Strike MOMA campaign were upset about a number of aspects - including:

  • the existence of MOMA as a monument to the acquisition by the wealthy few at the expense of the dispossessed
  • the fact that the Museum had allegedly said nothing about the financial ties between (the recently replaced) Leon Black, Chair of the Board of MOMA and Jeffrey Epstein
  • alleged ties between specific board members and systems of power and exclusion
  • disparities in the way employees are treated and the huge differentials between those at the top and those at the frontline

A protest took place and people got hurt - on both sides.

I think it's safe to say this might be a recurrent theme for many art galleries and museums in the future

The museum, citing safety concerns, closed its doors to the protesters who say MoMA caters too much to the interests of its wealthy donors. (New York Times)

 

The doors of the Museum of Modern Art
when they reopened - on 21st October 2019 (the day after I flew out!)
following a very extensive extension and refurbishment of MOMA
to create a reimagined presentation of modern and contemporary art.

 

This is what MOMA has to say about itself

At The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, we celebrate creativity, openness, tolerance, and generosity. We aim to be inclusive places—both onsite and online—where diverse cultural, artistic, social, and political positions are welcome. We’re committed to sharing the most thought-provoking modern and contemporary art, and hope you will join us in exploring the art, ideas, and issues of our time. MOMA - About us

My view

 
Is rejecting philanthropy and insisting that public collections should be oriented towards social justice the best way forward for all major art galleries and museums? 
 
My views on this topic are as follows
  1. Very many social idealists are clued-up about philosophy and principles of social justice - and totally ignorant about the very real world costs of running a major art gallery or museum
    • Such organisations, their collections and their buildings very much depend on philanthropic contributions - particularly in relation to any developments.
    • Governments by and large have neither the budget nor a policy which means that all capital and revenue costs of a museum can ever be covered by public funding. 
    • Take away the philanthropic funding of a museum and the only place to go if you need to balance budgets by raising revenue is by raising ticket prices - thereby making it more inaccessible to many and a "luxury" experience.
  2. Art Galleries and Museums obviously need to take account of changes in the social views of the public at large in relation to important topics.
    • That does not mean to say they should reflect immediately the views of small groups who are leading the charge. 
    • These things take time and a balanced view has to be taken - otherwise it's a "rule by mob" culture which is inherently both dangerous and unsatisfactory.
    • Change happens when this is the view of the majority. If groups want change then they need to get the public to change their minds about what is and is not OK.
  3. Many art collections contain "gifts" from the Estates of very rich people who need to reduce their tax bills (before or after death). 
    • Are the protestors suggesting that philanthropic gifts should no longer enhance art collections? 
  4. Museums also need to be aware that many of the "new rich" (as opposed to existing philanthropists) may be much less likely to be interested in funding art galleries and museums
    • so the problem of reduced funding from philanthropists in their lifetime may arise in any case in due course....
Bottom line
  • change takes time - it does not happen overnight
  • acting aggressively antagonises people very quickly
  • persistent but civilised demonstrations are much more likely to have a positive impact
  • engaging the public - not attacking buildings - is the only game in town if you want to introduce real change
  • the elimination of philanthropy for museums will also eliminate 
    • important art galleries and museums - who won't be able to balance their budgets
    • the development / maintenance of important art galleries and museums
    • some artwork in those collections - especially that which is on loan from those very same philanthropists 

My personal view has always been that:

  • it's a good thing to extract as much money as you can from corporate donors and philanthropists 
  • but do NOT allow them to dictate policies or be Board Members or manage the art galleries and museums.  
  • i.e. ALWAYS promote gifts without strings!

 

REFERENCE - just a few recent articles....

Many of the very wealthy individuals from crypto are quite young. That probably rules out a lot of philanthropic support for art museums, opera houses, and high-culture festivals, which typically command greater loyalty from older people, both as customers and as donors.

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