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Museum Funding Conundrums: Tom Campbell of Metropolitan Museum Leads All-Star Cast (with video)

Left to right: Mariët Westermann, Thomas Campbell, Maxwell Anderson, Ari Wiseman, James Bildner, Melissa Chiu
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

A self-acknowledged New York-centric panel of major museum officials and experts in cultural philanthropy engaged last night in an illuminating, wide-ranging discussion pegged to the topic of Art Museum Funding at the Crossroads. I distilled highlights from more than an hour and a half of musings to produce a 12-minute CultureGrrl Video, below.

Organized by the American Federation of Arts, in association with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the Arts & Business Council of New York, the panel was moderated by native New Yorker Max Anderson, now director of the Dallas Museum of Art (and formerly of the Whitney and Indianapolis museums). An accomplished interviewer, Max shot off some provocative questions but did not press his colleagues too hard if they lobbed weak responses.

The panelists were:

Thomas Campbell, director and CEO, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Melissa Chiu, director, Asia Society Museum, New York, and senior vice president for global arts and cultural programs, Asia Society
Mariët Westermann, vice president, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Ari Wiseman, deputy director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
James Bildner, adjunct lecturer in public policy,
Harvard Kennedy School, and senior research fellow at Harvard’s Hauser
Center for Nonprofit Organizations

On a day when (perhaps unbeknownst to them) the Dow dropped 243.36 points and U.S. stocks had lost $500 billion in three days (according to the headline for the lead article of today’s Wall Street Journal), these cultural luminaries discussed how art museums are recovering from the recession, how funding sources and nature of philanthropy have changed, how susceptible museums are to donor influence, and how they are using digital technology to build both financial support and audiences.

A few facts and figures that you’ll hear in passing:

—The Metropolitan Museum’s endowment has grown from $500 million in 1992 to $2.5 billion today. It defrays some 50% of the museum’s operating costs

—Income from the Met’s “pay as you wish” admission fee defrays some 15% of its operating budget

—The operating expenses of some 130 AAMD member-museums totaled $2.1 billion in 2010. Their admission income, some $116 million, defrayed only about 4% of that operating-expense total.

You’ll also hear about the museum-building boom in Asia and learn one reason why the Guggenheim Helsinki didn’t (yet) move beyond its feasibility study. When Bildner opines that politicians are not going to follow through on threats to sharply reduce the allowability of charitable deductions, keep your eye on the Met’s Campbell, as he vigorously knocks on wood. Campbell also, at one point, appears to allude to the situation at LA MOCA, where one megabucks board member, Eli Broad, is thought by some to have excessive influence.

At the end of the program, when no more hands rose from the audience for the Q&A, I ventured a hardball question, which I didn’t film. I’ll save the transcript of that exchange for another post.

For now, come join me as we listen to the all-star cast onstage at the Museum of Modern Art (whose director, Glenn Lowry, was not in attendance):

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