In the NYTimes Robin Pogrebin writes about the problem with museum expansion, a topic I covered in “The Super-Sizing of American Art Museums,” an article published in The American Prospect in 2007. Unfortunately, the problems I anticipated five years ago during the museum expansion boom have arrived. Here’s an excerpt from my piece:
American art museums are experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt,
from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Crocker Art Museum in
Sacramento to smaller museums elsewhere. Museum directors argue that the
expansions will better serve the public’s need for more exhibition
space and modern amenities. Less altruistically, they maintain job
security by ramping up fundraising and construction requirements, and
gild their résumés with impressive credentials. Art collectors queue up
to donate money for stylish wings that will bear their names. Cities
herald the projects as cornerstones for mammoth downtown development and
revitalization projects. The media provide the fanfare, lavishly
covering the initial announcements, building progress, and grand
But all this capital investment in high-profile architecture and
fattened collections and programming — this super-sizing of museums —
does not necessarily reward the art-viewing public. Museum directors and
curators need to consider expansion plans more critically. Often such plans result in oversized, over-designed new structures….
With higher maintenance and staffing costs for bigger buildings,
funding shortfalls can end up making an expanded art museum less
economically viable and imperil its position in the community. Some
museums, like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, have been forced to
sell artwork from the permanent collection when fundraising efforts for
new initiatives have fallen short of projected targets….
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