While the Dallas Museum of Art belongs to the city, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are comprised of public art institutions with explicit public missions, The Broad, as moderator Dominic Willsdon pointed out, is an example of a growing trend in the United States: the single-donor private museum. Willsdon cited the statistic that 80 percent of all single-family museums were created in the 21st century. Perhaps we ought to consider the individual donor model as the salient feature of the contemporary American museum, then.
Heyler cited the financial and professional stability of The Broad as strengths of this model, and suggested that the main difference between it and “what’s called a public museum” is that the collectors are still alive. This comment created palpable tension in the room as others noted that the development of a private museum is entirely dependent on the founder’s collecting vision. Several comments about what a private institution really adds to a developed museum ecosystem in a major art center seemed directed at The Broad.
Arteaga also pointed out that one major issue related to the public-private museum model is that of representation, asking, “Do we really have representation of all 50 states at art museums? Are museums actually serving their constituents?” The responsibility for the “representation of plurality, the diversity of the public” is at stake, he said. Hollein echoed this point, observing that a state-funded model in a country like Germany (Hollein previously served as the director of Schirn Kunsthalle
in Frankfurt) “creates a very dense infrastructure also
in areas where no wealth is being accumulated.”
So what might the future funding of public museums look like? The last session of the day, devoted explicitly to the future of museum audiences, featured a conversation among Tate Modern
director Frances Morris, Guggenheim
director Richard Armstrong, and Manuel Borja-Villel, director of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
in Madrid. The panel attempted to push past a concept of the public itself as either a ticket-buying audience or something “government-owned.” Borja-Villel described how, over the last few years, he and others at the the Reina Sofía have been questioning this idea of the public “and its confusion with the consumer, or with the national.”
For Morris, the best approach to thinking about one’s audience is to evoke the museum experience as akin to visiting a park or other public space. Public museums offer “a civic space full of things and experiences” that can be experienced in “either public or private terms.” And given that communities are not homogenous, Morris argued passionately that museums need to accommodate criticism as well as consensus. “If you open yourself up as an open or civic space, where ideas are protested whether you like them or not,” she said, the museum becomes “a blank canvas for the public to act on.”
In the face of ever-shrinking public spaces, all members of the panel cited the growing role of the museum as a commons. Borja-Villel emphasized that just as there is not one public, but multiple minorities, the museum ecosystem must support smaller museums in precarious positions, with “collaborations that are not just between equals in scale.”