Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Museums" and "Galleries"

If you're in a room where there are paintings on the walls or sculptures on the floor, or hanging from the ceiling or wherever, look around for writing on the wall near a piece of art. If it has the name of the artist or the name of the piece, you're in a museum.
If, in addition to the name or title, there's a price tag, you're in a gallery.
This confuses a lot of people on The Beach.
The simple question I hear a lot from museum-goers and museum members who keep getting begging letters from museums is this: "If you're always looking for money... Why don't you sell the art in the museum?"
Fair enough.
According to a certain museum President/Executive Director/CEO, the answer is pretty simple too. "Our intended outcome is to fulfill our mission, not to make a profit."
Most of the idiots who call talk radio think that their "hard-earned taxpayer dollars" go to government entities that provide community services and to private non-profit businesses. But non-profit businesses are not methadone clinics. Although the museum may receive state or federal grants, it is a small amount of the businesses' overall expenditures, so the museum must continue to raise operating expenses the old-fashioned way. In a museum's case, by gathering individual contributions

For-profit businesses make money to benefit their owners, stockholders, shareholders, board members. Like oil companies, farms, and restaurants.
Non-profit businesses make money to benefit their stakeholders: The Community. The idea is to make as much money as possible to support the mission.
That's what "non-profit" means.
In this deregulated Milton Freedman free market world, the capitalist thinks the Art Museum is competing with the mall -- as well as getting money from the State -- so they complain that it's "not fair" that they get letters in the mail from the art museum asking for money.
And then they just throw the letters away.
Which puts the museum in an interesting moral and ethical place when somebody asks, "Why don't you sell the art in the museum?"
Because the mission of the museum is not to sell art. It is to show art. (Some museums store art as well, and sometimes those "collections-holding" museums de-accession pieces that no longer fit their mission. Say, if they no longer show Austrian artists. Then, those pieces get sold, or auctioned, and it looks, to the casual observer, that the museum is just like that creepy "framed print" guy in the mall who sells Klimts to college freshmen.)
But what is actually happening is that the museum is staying true to its mission. It's not pimping Klimts. (Which would be a great name for your band. You're welcome.)
Today's Standard-Times has an oddly out-of-place AP article someone mistitled "Creativity fuels museums' fundraising efforts." Interesting, because it talks about private collectors helping their local museums. "Out-of-place" because another article in the same paper is about people rummaging through bulk trash day for crap they can sell on eBay.
As if there's something "creative" about a bunch of pantloads standing around in each others' homes talking about how much they paid for their latest Richard Prince Nurse thing. A private art collection is just that: private. Of interest to its owner. In the owner's private home. And I'm all for private collectors getting together to chat about their collections. Particularly if they're paying for the privilege and sending the proceeds to the museum.
But not when they're just selling each other stuff, which is a lot like "procurement." Pimping Klimts.
But a community art museum is a public place. In the case of NBAM, it doesn't collect and hide pieces in a locked vault. It shows them right there in the former bank. It teaches your kids and it shows your dad's paintings of his hometown. Often open for free, NBAM "engages the public in experiencing, understanding and appreciating art." Because that's the mission.
Coming up with "fundraisers" is the job.
And maybe that museum is doing another job: Saving, showing, and preserving the community's sense of integrity.

1 comment: