Stacy Perman has an excellent cover story in Barron’s this weekend focusing on the dilemma facing America’s top museums after the financial crisis. Art in America is experiencing a massive boom in interest, museum attendance and market participation. But the funding of museums in the US is largely a private affair with corporations pulling back and the government never a major player. Private museums and art collections are growing and institutionalized private foundations that operate museums like the Getty and Crystal Bridges are competing for works with charities that are reliant upon trustees to help fund ambitious projects:
Not that museums aren’t partly to blame for their own predicament. The fund-raising dilemma has a lot to do with the relentless drive—especially among the biggest museums—to bulk up and get ever bigger. As they compete for audiences, acquisitions, and money, their educational and cultural missions appear to collide with equally aggressive commercial interests.
After the credit crisis dramatically reduced revenues and donations, museums relied even more on private individuals:
During the recession, several heavyweight museums quietly added seats to their boards as a way to shore up their sagging bottom lines. According to Foundation Source research, between 2008 and 2012, the Museum of Modern Art increased the number of its trustees from 53 to 60; the Art Institute of Chicago went from 44 to 53; Philadelphia added 19 to reach 75.
Todd Levin, the prominent art advisor and curator, and director of the New York–based Levin Art Group, says, “Adding to boards means that, to a certain extent, more money is going to be available to the institution and that these institutions are in a competitive field with one another.” In the case of the Museum of Modern Art, a seat reportedly requires as much as a $10 million check, suggesting the additional trustees brought in $70 million. Big museums will always lure major donors, drawn by the museums’ “strong brand, high-quality reputations, and locations in tourist markets,” says AEA Consulting’s Ellis.
Billionaire Art Museums (Barron’s)