Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Smithsonian Study Group

The Art Newspaper, in an article by Jason Edward Kaufman, reveals details from a confidential report on the future viability of art museums collectively run by the Smithsonian Institution. The report was compiled by a group of “leading US museum directors,” including:
    Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Michael Shapiro, director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; John Walsh, director emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; James Wood, director and president emeritus of the Art Institute of Chicago and, since February, president and chief executive of the Getty Trust, Michael Conforti, director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown; Vishakha Desai, president and chief executive of the Asia Society in New York, and Susana Leval, director emerita of El Museo del Barrio in New York.
Jim Wood has been keeping busy in retirement.

The committee was appointed by Ned Rifkin, the undersecretary of the arts, at the Smithsonian in August of 2005. What followed was an 18 month independent investigation. The committee reported its findings to the Smithsonian's “board of regents” in January. The findings are indeed discouraging. Highlights include:
    It questions the long-term viability of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York because of “the modest size of audience, limited programs and scope of [the] collection”.

    It calls for the “administrative consolidation” of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The two institutions have overlapping collections and occupy the same recently restored building; the report recommends that one director be placed in charge of both museums.

    It also warns that leaks in the storage areas of the Freer and Sackler galleries threaten the collection. Leaks are also identified as a problem at the Hirshhorn Museum.
The Art newspaper, who was able to arrange a viewing of the confidential document, identifies the report’s three major issues:
    —the need to make Smithsonian museums “truly excellent”—a goal attainable only through administrative and policy changes, increased funding particularly from the private sector, and a “more cost-effective organizational structure” that would entail “consolidation of some units as well as more shared services”.

    —“unrealized potential”—attributable to years of “go-it-alone habits” and lack of cooperation between institutions: for example two museums in Washington, DC recently held Hiroshi Sugimoto exhibitions without any joint programming.

    —the report recommends expanding the role of the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for art, a position created in 2004 to oversee the Smithsonian’s art division.
You will recall the report was ordered by undersecretary Ned Rifkin.
The Art Newspaper piece is long and in depth, so you can check it out HERE

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