At their most idealized, museums are repositories for precious objects and sites of discovery. Regardless of their noble missions, however, they’re also institutions with some very prosaic needs—perhaps most essentially, the need for money. Programming, staffing, acquiring and storing art, securing loans, and maintaining a building all require major and continual investments.
In the United States especially, where government arts funding is often
under attack, many museums rely heavily on donations from corporations and high net worth individuals. For their significant generosity, the latter group can receive thanks in the form of a board membership. When they become trustees, donors enjoy opportunities to participate in decision-making processes: They often help determine a budget, vote on hiring and firing, and plan fundraising events. Development departments exist, in part, to keep board members happy.
Sometimes, however, the public scorns a trustee, or the relationship between a museum and its patrons. Complaints typically range from reprehensible sources of wealth and shady business dealings to preferential treatment for trustees’ collections and interests. Below, we examine ten such scandals, which pitted ten museums’ funders and leaders against their audiences and staff.