Museums in the crucible

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2009 at 7:36 pm

A recent article from ARTnews magazine shed light on a big question mark in the art world: the future of museums. The recent economic hardships have forced many museums to make cutbacks and painful sacrifices. However, as Jessica Starr noted, museums have also ramped up efforts by promoting many free events, extending hours, or eliminating entrance fee during certain hours. In times of hardships, museums become desperate to draw new audiences for the future.

This new fervor for marketing seems to be caused by more than the harsh economic climate. Perhaps museums are now forced to respond to an ever-changing contemporary culture. Now, more than ever, museum staff and administrators are looking back to its true mission and trying to change the image of these institutions from being a stuffy, cold box filled with pictures to an interactive and accessible cultural environment by using new technologies and marketing tools.


a photograph submitted by G. Rowland Williams for Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsored contest for its visitors

There are some, however, that disagree with this new turn in direction. Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art comments,

I do not think this is a time that museums need to take, due to economic circumstances, a radical new direction…it’s precisely the kind of time when it’s imperative to reaffirm the fundamental mission of museums: curatorial work, conservation, and education. Marketing and special events are less a core function of museum work than curatorial work is.

While this belief urges everyone to be cautious and not be fooled by the effects of the fickle economy, no one can ignore this startling statistic: while school programs brought more than 3 million children into AAMD-member (Association of Art Museum Directors) museums last year, by 2034, when the minority will become the majority, only 9% of these children would have visited a museum. There is a huge discrepancy between the current museum audiences and the reality of the population. If something does not change, “…we’ll be out of business by 2034,” said Julian Zugazagoitia, director of El Museo del Barrio.

Only time will tell whether some of these age-old institutions will adapt to the digital era. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled out for innovative programs and free events at a museum near you!


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