This is your chance, and it may be your best chance, to make the case for art museums. Right now, online, The New York Times has invited a dialogue with readers that will run in Sunday’s Review section. You must respond by tomorrow (Thursday) to be considered for publication.
Frank Robinson, former director of Cornell’s art museum, the Williams College Art Museum and RISD, has posed the question — to my mind, way too simplistically. Nonetheless, the last words of his post are: “How many lives is a Rembrandt worth?”
Robinson sets up the question around the mess in Detroit, beginning “…How can we equate a few pieces of canvas with paint on them with the pensions of thousands of firefighters, nurses, police officers, teachers and other civil servants?”
First off, no one sensible is equating the two, and that is part of the problem. It’s not that simple. Robinson makes matters worse by saying this “problem” is repeated in many places around the country because art museums get tax breaks, and that many museums are increasingly dependent on government aid. Really? I’d like to see some statistics for that assertion – minus the tax deduction argument, which countries in Europe and elsewhere have decided is the best way to go. At time when others are copying us, this former museum director is undercutting the very system that works.
Finally, Robinson repeats the hoary tale that museums are not open to everyone. That is just nonsense. I’ve seen museums twist themselves into knots trying to broaden their audiences — even doing the equivalent of selling their souls for it. Yes, I am thinking of all those Star-Wars-like exhibitions that never belonged in an art museum.
Throughout his letter, Robinson mixes apples with oranges with cherries and bananas and even throws a few tomatoes in — quite an accomplishment for a 322-word letter.
But you can respond far better than I.
Don’t let this opportunity go by. Write your opinions to email@example.com. The anti-museum folks are out there.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cornell