Author Archives: Stephanie

Museums in Michigan: Economic distress

The currently distressed state of our nation has now directly hit the museums of Michigan. The Detroit Institute of Arts on Monday announced that they are cutting 56 museum positions, which amounts to 20% of its current staff. (As if museum positions in Michigan weren’t already few and far between.) But to be honest with the state of Michigan in these economic times, I’m not surprised that they didn’t have to shut the whole museum down. As the whole country seems to now know, “The Big 3”, (Chrysler, GM, and Ford) of the Automotive Industry are struggling to keep their heads above water. “The Big 3” were a large contributor of donations to the DIA, and they had to pull out their funding in light of their current financial distress. Also, in recent news Michigan’s Gov. Jennifer Granholm apparently does not believe in the need for museums in michigan. Granholm relayed in her state address at the beginning of February that in order to balance Michigan’s budget, the elimination of the state department of History, Arts, and Libraries was necessary. Under this state department is a major Michigan museum funding council, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). This council provides numerous money in funding to all the museums and cultural agencies of Michigan. Many museums of Michigan lean heavily on this granting agency, and with its destruction, what are museums of Michigan to do?  Cut more jobs and ultimately close their doors. As a struggling museum professional myself, it saddens me that our cultural institutions are always the first things to go, and that the state would rather sink millions of dollars into our correctional facilities instead of the museums who provide some beauty and diversity to our state of Michigan. Yes this post may be a bit of a rant, but I have to say I am utterly sick to my stomach when I hear of the collapse of the arts and culture in Michigan and ultimately within our nation.

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Museums: Catering to the (uninformed) Visitor

So recently I have been doing the museum circuit in Detroit and Chicago. Upon visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), I had to check out the new interpretive vision instituted by their director Graham W. J. Beal. The DIA re-opened its doors this past November 2007 after renovating both the outside building and inside galleries. I have to say that having been to the DIA pre-renovation, I was quite impressed with the new galleries. The museum is absolutely gorgeous and gives me that feeling of reverence as I wander through the infamous artwork.  Amidst these newly renovated galleries the beautiful art is displayed in a revolutionary, user-friendly way. Beal seeking to “extinguish the deathly whiff of elitism” implemented a new interpretive plan for the artwork. There are now text panels, posted next to the paintings, on silver metal stands, nearly as big as some, white in color to provide information for the visitor.  These prominently placed panels have large type, a maximum of 150 words, and in simple terms, introduce the “broad idea” of the art works being displayed. I have to say originally I was all for this “new interpretive vision”. On the frontier in the museum profession is the idea of a user-friendly, community-driven, open door, anti-elitist, art-for-all-people museum. And, isn’t Beal trying to accomplish what museum professionals ascribing to the new, 21st century, re-imagining-the-museum thought process are all desperately seeking to achieve? 

Hmmmm….my jury is still out. The signs were a bit in-the-way, distracting when I was trying to meditate on the art and read the tombstone information about the piece. These white signs were almost like white neon signs screaming “READ ME!!!, READ ME!!!!!”  Although, I do think the information was helpful if you have never ever been to an art museum in your life, never picked up any literature on the subject and wanted to know more beyond the exhibit label. 

 

On another note, while visiting The Art Institute of Chicago, I noticed something. Something that caught me a bit off guard…In most of the prominent galleries throughout the museum were large white desks with Mac computers and a museum employee. All there to help you with anything that you may desire pertaining to the museum, to the artwork, the sky was the limit! And these persons were not just in the main entrance, they were in every major gallery! I was quite puzzled and shocked by this new change in the museum’s attempt to go above and beyond in its catering to the inquisitive museum visitor. 

Museums catering to the new, uninformed visitor, a new trend? I think so. Every museum seems to be jumping on the band wagon. It is yet to be determined if this new trend is here to stay. We, as museum professionals (or museum workers) will all have to wait and see. 🙂