an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

A Maximum Blooper In Dallas?

I debated before posting this link to a video on the YouTube channel for the Dallas Museum of Art. Someone sent it to me. It’s a takeoff on Downton Abbey by the Dallas museum, called “Downton Artsy.” It stars museum director Max Anderson as lord of the manor, and includes curators and museum supporters in a little tale about the museum’s free admission policy and a museum gala.

imagesCAMHZR5BI shared it with a few people, without much comment of my own. Everyone of them was aghast. They used these words to describe it: “cringemaking,” “appalling,” “narcissistic,” “embarassing,” “sends mixed messages,” “OMG,” “hilarious,” “infantile,” and “unbelievable.”

As I write this, 809 people have viewed it, and four have given it a thumbs up. There are no thumbs down.

See for yourself here.

I’m pretty sure the museum would tell critics to “lighten up,” and they have a point. But I can’t understand why the museum would waste the time and effort and money (and did it seek permission from Masterpiece Classic to borrow the look, feel and music?) on this.  What are they trying to do? What kind of image does it create?


  1. Jim VanKirk says:

    A well intended but extravagant vanity. A pompous Harlem Shuffle.

  2. Josh Reynolds says:

    Alas, it is true. The South is a goofy place. And when unsophisticated people try to push the envelope, they produce silly stuff like this. I have seen this as a leit-motif throughout the South. Southern socialites, as museum supporters think of themselves, suffer from the cultural equivolent of oxygen deprivation. That this was produced by the museum’s staff is sad. They’d be better off with Lester Lannen and those nutzy hats he used to hand out.

  3. Maybe they just wanted to have a bit of fun and help their institution by riding in the wake of the wildly popular show. But speaking of uppity museum administrators, here’s Philly mag blogger Joel Mathis’ take on Barnes Foundation’s exec Derek Gillman recent dissing of uncouth visitors to the Barnes art collection: “And the proles are creating problems, doing things like standing too close to the sculptures and making people anxious, and there’s enough poor-versus-rich stuff going on here to make up the faintly ludicrous plot of a 1930s Marx Brothers movie. ‘We’re seeing many more people not familiar . . . with what is proper behavior,’ said Derek Gillman, the Barnes’ president and chief executive, right before removing his monocle and finding himself holding the leg of an impish, silent, curly-haired man carrying a harp. Don’t worry, though: If you’d like to wear jorts and see the purty pictures, Cleetus, the first Sunday of every month will be free admission all day.”

  4. Keith Glutting says:

    It’s just as bad as the “Gangnam Style” video the Brooklyn Museum made.

  5. Jim VanKirk says:

    In their defense Josh you can’t get more experienced or sophisticated than Max Anderson and he’s certainly not Southern. It’s more likely just another example of curators out of step with the general Arts community

  6. The critics don’t need to lighten up. Judy’s certainly not averse to humor and wit, and I know she isn’t pompous.

    The thing about a gambit like this one is that to work, it has to actually be funny, or at least witty. And that’s not so easy to pull off. Seems like the Dallas Museum didn’t quite manage it.

  7. Where are you from originally Mr. Reynolds? Just curious.

    • To list the various reasons why this is a miss-step would take much longer than the length of the actual video. The term counter-productive comes to mind. Given the viral nature of the platform, what is apparently perceived as a local ‘inside’ lark, might be interpreted in a different manner outside of the immediate community. I have one question, did the communications director for the institution weigh/evaluate how this might ‘read’ to those outside and beyond the insular community? Is that even a concern of the museum? Sometimes the thirst to embrace social media platforms can push institutions to tamper with and move beyond core competency. I would recommend a more prudent creative use of social media and leave parody up to the professional at SNL.

      • Well said, Peter. I also wanted to know what the communications director was thinking, but more than that I wanted to know what their market research said and whether it pointed to this as an appropriate strategy. I can’t imagine any cultural organization that was fully engaged with its audience investing in this type of messaging.

        • Trevor and Peter, good points — but when the director and trustees favor something, and their participation suggests that they did, wouldn’t it be hard for a communications director to advise against?

          • Judith, Leadership, if their ultimate desire is the present the best possible public image of an institution and not act on what clearly is in this case is a public display of private ego, tend to listen to the individual entrusted to offer his/her professional advice and expertise. I have been fortunate while in-house and as a consultant to have informed leadership that had faith in judgment outside their realm of experience. Again I ask where was the communications department/individual in all this? So the question is this video serving the public/donors, or just self-serving?

          • Yes, you are right about good leaders in an ideal world.

      • Joseph J Gonzales says:

        This one has Development Department written all over it to me. I’m guessing that there was not a lot of vetting on this one. It was a clearly a way to thank and feature Neiman Marcus and other benefactors and promote their gala event.

        It certainly does not appeal to me, but I’m guessing it was made for a particular audience, including trustees, corporate executives, account executives, and so on.

        Still, questionable to send it out into the world as part of your communications on the value and relevance of free admission.

  8. Just one of a spate of Downton spoofs appearing on YouTube, this version is probably only funny to people who know the names & faces involved. But it touches on a serious problem for the arts, how to get younger or economically challenged people access and interest in the arts. As a longtime theatre, dance and museum goer I have seen many changes that swell the audience. Now in the economic downturns of the last 15 years, the interest in all the arts is shrinking again. We keep pushing the need for the arts in education, this is a follow-up to that.

  9. Self serving SOUTHERN (hm!) individuals enjoy being important. The young and less young will go to a museum when and if it makes sense. The DMA has fabulously rich sponsors. But it is a dead collection.
    Art changed and continues to change. Wealth wants recognition for a generosity that is always self-serving.

    • This is not limited to Southern folks. There are very few wealthy and truly altruistic people. But whether its the tax laws or the adulation, I am glad to have a lot of art that is on loan to public institutions available to me as a member of the public. As far as the tastes of the young, it is hard to tell since social media has so much influence over where they go and how they spend their time. Right now, a lot of the social media is being generated by two opposing forces. There is the young, idealistic, lets-make-a-better-world group and the RealityTV group. The first will probably always choose live performance, the second will only go for titillation factor. And every museum has rich sponsors who want recognition and praise and adulation for their efforts and contributions, just like the rest of us. Only they buy their way in.

  10. Thanks for pointing me to this. I thought it was kind of cute, and since it was made for a ball where many people would have known the actors, it was probably really funny in Dallas, especially with the huge surprise of Margaret McDermott appearing at the end. I go with the “lighten up” vote.

  11. Bill Prenevost says:

    At the Cleveland Museum of Art I produced a video with the manager of the Cleveland Indian’s manager Mike Hargrove who had never been to an art museum before. It was intended to break down psychological barriers that prevented more average citizens from attending the fabulous and also free museum. It worked very well, but not without some criticism by a few elite types. This prompted a friend of mine to write a book that explores the essence of this very dialogue. It’s called “The Wild Pitch” by William Truesdell. You can get it at or directly from the author at It’s a fictional comedy, of course, the only tasteful way to approach the subject.

  12. I am executive director for a modest visual arts organization and gallery/gift shop in a small Vermont town. I couldn’t continue watching this video after the first few seconds, I closed it after they refer to the big day of opening the museum to the public. Yes, it made me “cringe” and I visibly winced, and in my humble opinion, done in extremely poor taste. Especially, if you are actually trying to reach new visitors, those who you hope will become supporters someday, not to overstate the obvious. But even in my neck of the woods we combat this idea that those involved intimately in the arts are snobbish (by local folks who have never stepped foot in our gallery space). If this video was poking fun at that perception, I didn’t find it humorous. It’s actually appalling. Perpetuating this perception, that those involved in the arts are somehow above the masses, just makes our mission, instilling art appreciation, and giving opportunity to experience art, a whole lot more difficult.

  13. Gloria Pryzant says:

    You should all just lighten up….this was very clever way to thank major donors and get the word out about the museum’s new free admission policy. Many who have been involved in/supporters of performing and visual arts tend to have an old world view of themselves and the art form. However, that way of thinking is not sustainable for an arts organization today. They need to be more relevant and connect/build relationships with the larger community. A sense of humor is one way of breaking down these barriers. I thought this video was a clever way to poke fun at the very people who are learning that ‘relevance’ is key for an arts organization to survive and and thrive in the 21st century.

    • Hear, hear. This discussion has me thinking about new possibilities for other cultural organizaitons that need to engage the young. What would happen if orchestras played rock or other kinds of popular music instead of trying to make Beethoven and Mozart “cool”? It could be a mess; but then again a good score might create a succesful fusion of the rich orchestra texture and contemporary popular music.

  14. robcat2075 says:

    3300 views? That’s microscopic in internet terms. If you don’t like the video, don’t fret, it’s almost not there.

    What is the negative effect of this? That someone might choose to not visit the DMA? I doubt it.

an ArtsJournal blog