Jun 122012
 
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There are well over 125 museums and public art galleries in New York City. Some are must-visit destinations for international tourists whilst others are very little known to the city’s own native population. A select group of these institutions are participating in the 34th annual Museum Mile Festival that was first held in June 1978. Initially, the event was founded in response to the lagging support for the arts as a result of the fiscal crisis of the 1970′s. Fast forward three and a half decades later, it seems that we are back where we started c. 1978.

No, I don’t believe that the problem of funding for the arts is entirely due to the reduction of financial support for visual and performance arts by the city or the state but more so due to the changing nature of the art market and the fundamental (f)laws in patronage among the city’s so-called elite. Reflecting the crude realities of the art market and its increasing commercialization, a new of generation of arts patrons seem to have taken over the non-profit cultural world with the primary purpose of advancing their personal, business and social agendas.

Considering that the governing boards and curatorial departments of museums’ have shifted their approach toward rapid commercialization, it is, ironically, not surprising that these and other cultural institutions have found themselves cash-strapped in recent years. After all, at times, museums’ posh ‘fund-raising’ parties cost even more than the amounts that they raise to meet their goals. Honestly, is it really necessary to spoil arts patrons before they decide whether or not they wish to contribute even the smallest amounts of donation to their ‘favourite charity’? Well, the trend has taken on such a life of its own that, too often, it seems counter-intuitive to even attempt to challenge it.

And, then there is the other – elephant in the room – factor of the ludicrous rising prices in the art market especially, but not exclusively, in contemporary art. This, of course, is courtesy of … oh, right, the collectors who also happen to be board members of the very museums that can no longer afford to make acquisitions because they are competing with their own… board members. Challenges galore when it comes to managing any non-profit institution. However, mis-placing – or is it scape-goating (is there such a verb? Well, there is now.) – those challenges onto lower echelons of economic order, if not society, is most unhelpful.

In any case, Museum Mile Festival – which takes place on June 12 – is a charming public gesture in which a dozen museums on the upper east side of Manhattan open their doors on the public. All bar The Frick Collection which technically falls outside the designated area of Fifth Avenue between 82nd to 105th streets. However, I wonder had The Frick volunteered their participation, NYC officials would have rejected their inclusion in the Museum Mile district, & the Festival. After all, one of the other participating museums – Museum for African Art – is located outside the MM area, on 5th Ave and 110th street.

…My suggestion? Museum directors, curators, and heads of education ought to consider initiating their educational outreach from within their institutions starting with their own board members. Matters concerning taste & taste-making aside, lessons in patronage 101 should give them an idea that making donations to one of their favourite cultural institutions should not be necessarily done in the midst of champagne cocktail parties …nor in return for some kind of dramatic public bravora.