In the past few months as both an avid reader of stories on the arts and on museum culture and as an editor here at Hyperallergic I’ve noticed something unique about our changing relationship to museums: We are behaving as if they actually do
belong to us. This is to say that I’ve noticed a shift in rhetoric convened around the policies, developments, and structures of museums in our shared press. When we surmise that museums are doing the wrong thing, we respond actively
, vocally, and in a sustained fashion. We voice our grievances expecting them to hear us and take meaningful action. Though many voices have lately flogged the well-known critique of museums — that they are colonialist holdovers that maintain and affirm unequal class relations, enforce the comportment of bourgeois values, and make the poor and working classes generally feel unwelcome — these institutions are no longer impervious to the opinions of the general public. As museums slowly but surely become more visitor centered,
I can see our analyses and critiques grow more incisive and penetrating. I see this in our own opinion pages.
In the past few months, Erin L. Thompson and Mackenzie Priest
have discussed how museums fail to comply with the most basic guidelines given by the American Alliance of Museums to restrict trade in looted antiquities. Olivia McEwan analyzes
how the British Museum’s captions, especially with regard to looted cultural heritage, evade responsibility and obscure Britain’s leading role as a protagonist in the ugly history of military subjugation of Africans and the plunder of their cultural heritage. Jennifer Riddell
calls out museums for their ageism, suggesting that this specific kind of prejudice needs to be folded into larger diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) initiatives. Truman Chambers shows us
, from his vantage as a security guard, how the Toledo Museum of Art does indeed foster an environment in which the curators have little or no meaningful interactions with the front-of-house staff and these staff (who are most in contact with the general public) are not utilized to act as interpretive guides or to enhance visitor engagement. These pieces have been mainly diagnostic.
We’ve also published several prescriptive articles, such as Sofia Cotrona’s contention
that museums mounting exhibitions of all women artists is a futile strategy for addressing the systemic erasure of women form art history. Clark Filio argues
that museum boards don’t fulfill their fiduciary duties well at all (specifically citing the demonstrably poor returns on investment for the Whitney Museum) and recommends that boards be either abolished or radically reconfigured to include those other than wealthy patrons. Hannah Baker
went even further in peening an article with a headline that calls for museums to be abolished altogether — though the content of the piece more demands the current institution’s replacement with something “more caring and joyful.” Even when we disagree (and I have disagreed with some opinions) we publish these pieces because our convictions are made stronger by having different forces testing their mettle.
We’ve also had Tim Brinkhof mourn
the potential closure of the Hermitage Amsterdam museum which he sees as crucial to mitigating growing international anti-Russian sentiment. On a hopeful note, Salvador Salort-Pons and Eugene Gargaro
at the Detroit Museum of Arts wrote about a property tax scheme that they borrowed from the Detroit Zoo to create a financial base that would sustain the museum for the foreseeable future. The implementation of this tax arrangement also ended up making the institution much more responsive to and caring for their communities. With a more focused view of how to make Black organizations more able to sustain themselves, Rob Fields,
the former director of Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn suggests long-term strategies and policies that will help these organizations to do more than just survive, but also thrive in their missions.
All this has shown me that we are starting to see and believe that museums are ours, our key institutions for fostering a civic heart, our key edifices of cultural memory, and this is why we talk about them almost every day and why we will not give up on them yet.
— Seph Rodney, Senior Editor