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Badly Bungled Philanthropy

2012 Summer TCA Tour - Day 2

The New York Philharmonic* just gave everyone a lesson in how not to fundraise. I am talking, of course, about the announcement that David Geffen has promised $100 million to the Phil for the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall.  There are two problems with this gift. First, the Phil's leadership seems to have been enchanted by that number, the same amount David Koch gave to rename the New York State Theater after himself five years ago. (And the same amount that Stephen Schwarzman gave to the New York Public Library before that, but that's … [Read more...]

Can There Be Too Many Museums?


In a controversial move, Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser last week killed plans to open an Institute of Contemporary Expression at a disused, rodent-infested, leaky-roofed historic school in the city's northwest quadrant. Predictably, she was pummeled by critics, some of whom say she would rather have a commercial venture in that space (which is protected and cannot be razed). It may be that politics influenced her decision, but a look--at least from afar--at the dynamics give me pause too. Sometimes, there can be too many museums--if … [Read more...]

The Story Behind LACMA’s Saudi Partnership


Press releases often provoke more questions than they answer. That was certainly the case when one from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art issued one on Jan. 6 about its new collaboration with Saudi Aramco’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. It said that LACMA and the Center: are pleased to announce that the Center will exhibit more than 130 highlights of Islamic art from LACMA’s renowned collection on the occasion of the Center’s opening. The installation will include works of art from an area extending from southern Spain to … [Read more...]

No So Fast: Private Art Museum Under Scrutiny


“I’m not against it being done, but it’s got to be done well,” [Rob] Storr [dean of the Yale School of Art], said. “If there’s to be a public forgiveness for taxes there should be a clear public benefit, and it should not be entirely at the discretion of the person running the museum or foundation.” That statement sums up my thoughts about the phenomenon described in Sunday's New York Times, in the business section. Writing Off the Warhol Next Door: Art Collectors Gain Tax Benefits From Private Museums, by my friend Patricia Cohen, describes … [Read more...]

Court Orders Tate To Provide Funding Details, Pronto


The Tate museum has been ordered to reveal the details of its sponsorship deals with BP, the oil company--and that, I think, is a good thing. This all happened just before Christmas, and according to The Guardian's article on the ruling by a court: Tate has been ordered to give details of its BP sponsorship between 1990-2006, in a case brought by environmental campaigners. An information tribunal has ruled against the art institution, which was refusing to give details, claiming the information could intensify protests and harm its … [Read more...]

More on That Indy Admission Fee


The reaction in Indianapolis to the museum's decision to go from free general admission to an $18 general admission has been very instructive. I've been watching local comments, and--not statistics, just my impression--the tally is overwhelming against. Again, the opposition is not necessarily against all museum admissions, it's opposed to the gigantic jump and the way it was announced. Some commenters continue to blast Charles Venable for saying nothing since the press release was issued. Again, I have to ask, what board dynamics is he … [Read more...]

Indianapolis Museum Stirs Up A Hornet’s Nest


What the Indianapolis Art Museum did Friday has to fall into the category of major PR blunder. In a press release headlined "IMA announces new campus enhancement plan to improve visitor experience and financial sustainability," it sneaked in the fact--in the ninth paragraph, no less--that: To build stronger relationships with guests, ensure quality programming through customer feedback and to guarantee long-term financial sustainability, the IMA will be refining its admission pricing policy. Visitor research has shown that IMA guests do not … [Read more...]

No Other Word For It: Fundraising Failure


The Phillips Collection crowdsourcing effort, an attempt to raise $45,000 in a month to support a website abut Jacob Lawrence, has failed miserably. When the drive ended on Dec. 10, only $2,988--a mere 7 percent of the goal--had been pledged. And that took 41 supporters, for an average contribution of about $73. All of the background is here, in my previous post on the subject. Why would this campaign fail? I can think of several possibilities, or a combination of some of them: --Not enough visibility for the campaign. I checked the … [Read more...]

Rush Post: Financial Health Of the Arts Industry


Southern Methodist University's National Center for Arts Research (NCAR), begun a few years ago, ,released a new bit of research today--"examining the financial, operating, engagement and staffing health of the U.S. nonprofit arts industry." I confess I find much of its work a bit unsurprising. Do we really need research that shows, as this report did, that "The receipt of an NEA or IMLS grant has a positive effect on nearly all performance outcomes" or that "Arts sectors that are heavily into digital distribution of their programs … [Read more...]

Barron’s Strange Report On Art Museums


Last weekend, Barron's--the financial weekly--published a cover story on art museums. It's a crazy salad of a piece, full of supposedly new thoughts that are actually old, composed with a strange tone that shifts throughout the piece, exaggerating in parts, and so on. It frequently cited net assets as a sign of wealth, which includes items like land, when it should have used endowment figures. It has a few non sequiturs (notice the paragraph below on the Met). And it bore what I think is a misleading headline, Billionaire Art Museums. (see … [Read more...]

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