I sometimes use this blog to highlight news items that may presage important developments in the future—the leading edge of trends lapping at our toes. This short TED talk by Kirk Citron asks a good question: how do we know which stories are transitory, and which have enduring significance (what Citron calls “long news?)
Sorting news into two categories (let’s call them “long news” and “short news”) is an interesting little forecasting exercise to apply when reading the daily headlines. It’s easy, for example, to shrug off today’s news that the International Banana Club and Museum is being booted from its space by the city. (At least we hope that the founder’s resulting attempt to sell the whole collection on eBay is not a harbinger of things to come…)
I tried this exercise out—plucking one day’s news summaries of my mail bin, and applying my budding forecasting skills. Here’s my vote for the 3 stories from that day that are likely to turn out to be Long News. They are not, of themselves, of earth shattering significance, but it’s my bet that they illustrate trends of immense importance to museums in coming decades:
Story: Detroit Institute of Arts opens a major new Islamic gallery.
Summary and background: DIA was founded in the 1880’s, when Detroit was a burly, growing city fueled first by its role as a thriving transportation hub on the Great Lakes and then by its pre-eminence in automobile manufacturing. Now the city faces a crisis in its traditional core industry, a declining population (as people migrate to the suburbs) and an increase in diversity of its population (the article cites the “emergence of a sizable black middle class and the arrival of Middle Eastern audiences.”) Last year DIA slashed its budget by nearly 20 percent, laying off a commensurate number of staff. One action director Graham Beale took in response to these challenges was hiring a curator with experience at Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, who then mined the museums collections to open the new Islamic gallery.
Trends: decline of some major cities as their historic income bases collapse; the attendant decline in traditional supporters of the major cultural institutions; growing minority populations contrasting with museums’ traditional, predominantly white, audiences.
Pithy quotes: (from the chair of the DIA’s Asian and Islamic Arts Forum, referring to the fact that many Muslim attendees at the opening of the gallery had never visited the museum before) “They didn’t feel connected. [The prevailing view was] “there was nothing I wanted to see.” And from an interview with a “black socialite” at a recent DIA gala, remarking on the largely white attendees, “Detroit has significant black wealth…but it’s hard getting them to participate.”
Story: The Children’s Museum of Richmond opens a satellite branch
Summary: CMR opens a second location in the (affluent) development of Short Pump. The museum hopes to raise enough additional revenue from this location, adjacent to a Whole Foods, to grow its earned income and underwrite service to other areas.
Trends: Decreased reliance on contributions; multiple locations for one museum; situating museums to reach desirable audience segments.
Pithy quotes: From the director "A lot of organizations, when they hit a recession, try to cut their way out of the problem. We're trying to grow our way out of the problem." From the board chairman:" By opening a second location, the Children's Museum of Richmond will be able to generate additional revenue that will aid in serving more children throughout central Virginia, especially those from communities with limited economic resources." (See additional remarks on this project from director Karen Coltrane here.)
Story: an obituary of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum
Summary: This opinion piece tracks the decline and closing of the Fresno Met, which had its origin in 1976 when Founder Lewis Eaton obtained the old Fresno Bee building for a new arts center. The museum undertook an ambitious expansion in 2004, acquiring land and engaging a high profile architect. In the process, it closed for over 3 years and overran the original budget. The museum never regained financial stability after reopening in 2008, finding itself with $4 million in debt, unable to pay even the interest much less repay the principle. It closed in January this year.
Trends: in the future, museums can actually die. Factors contributing to mortality: organizations driven by personal agendas rather than audience need; niche competition with other museums; over-investment in physical infrastructure (land and buildings); decreasing support from local government; disconnect between the agenda set by the people providing the money and the preferences of the people choosing not to use the museum.
Pithy quote: former board member on why the nascent Met didn’t merge with the Fresno Art Museum “It was made clear that even if we agreed to turn over our entire museum and contents to these people, possibly a few of us might be put on their board, but this new group of people would be in control.” (Emphasis added.)
What’s your pick for “long news” from this week’s Dispatches from the Future of Museums? Write in and share your forecasts…