Great (albeit harsh) thoughts from Adrian Ellis on the present and future state of museums in this economy. He posits that business of museums internationally has been shaped and hewn in service to the ultra-rich, leaving the institutions particularly vulnerable to the whims and toils of that constituency. Says Adrian:
These institutions have been significant beneficiaries of the growing
and, to many, morally indefensible disparities of wealth throughout the
world. It has left them heavily reliant on, and overly attuned and
attentive to, a narrow constituency whose long-term appetite or
capacity for support is highly questionable. The sector has come to
rely disproportionately on the very wealthy, and on the role that
museums can play as mechanisms for the translation of wealth into
status, and status into power.
The steep contribution curve (with the vast majority of all money coming from the tip-top few) is therefore in need of a softer slope, in the form of more, smaller donations. Problem is, the arguments for supporting the arts among the very rich don’t resonate particularly well with those who might join the smaller donor crowd. And it will take museums (and other cultural institutions) some time to retool their rhetoric.
Adrian also suggests that minor alterations won’t suffice, even though radical reconstruction will be difficult for conservative boards and defensive leadership. Although desperation may be the mother of innovation:
The alternative to the open-minded exploration of radical alternatives
is a sombre one, in which the energies and ingenuities of the sector
are devoted increasingly to the support of a dysfunctional
pseudo-mission: that of maintaining appearances at any cost, even if
the museum becomes a sort of “living dead” organisation, in which any
capacity for aesthetic or intellectual endeavour is sacrificed to the
goal of keeping the institutional ego protected.