RAND has a new report out on the structure and dynamics of the visual arts — a sister work to their 2001 exploration of the performing arts and their 2002 treatise on the media arts. All three are available for purchase or free download from the RAND web site.
Like the previous works, A Portrait of the Visual Arts takes a sociologist/economist view of the world, gathering and summarizing related studies from the field, and then extrapolating the key trends, future issues, and possible policy implications. Not the most engaging reading, perhaps, but full of thoughtful perspectives on why the world is the way it is — at least the world related to the most elite and credentialed visual arts.
Most entertaining is the chapter on visual arts organizations and the many tensions that drive them to distraction. Says one section on the challenge of managing these organizations:
As a result of pressures to increase revenues, to hold the line on costs, to expand the number and diversity of audiences, to find sponsorship for major exhibitions, to develop new programs and services to meet the demand for greater public involvement, to develop new marketing and public relations initiatives, and to manage expanding staffs, the scale and complexity of managing museums has increased exponentially. In the words of Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ”the burden of maintaining this enormous machine is crushing.”
Faced with these complex pressures, says the report, museums have begun to seek ”new types of directors,” described in an extended quote by the European Museum Forum’s Kenneth Hudson:
They are well-educated, but not primarily scholars. They are not much given to carrying out research or writing books and learned articles. They are essentially communicators and organizers whose main interest lies in making their collections and exhibitions attractive and interesting to the general public and in widening that public and studying its needs and wishes. . . . They have a well developed political and public-relations sense and they realize that their museum has to be regarded as a business to be run in an efficient manner.
Sounds like a familiar concern.