Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 for Museums

Here we are at the close of 2007. All signs seem to indicate that museums by and large have been living the high life this year (link, link, link, link, link, link, link, so many more). There have been openings and expansions galore, not to mention inquiries into the spending habits of top museum officials. I find two things in particular interesting about the reports of the 2007 museum boom. The first is that all of this was happening amidst governmental cuts to museums, so I'd love to know where all of this money was coming from: capital campaigns? earned income? foundation grants? Most likely, a little of all of the above.

What I'd also like to know is whether or not museums are starting to see more active involvement from their major donors in the form of social entrepreneurship/venture philanthropy, or if these expansions and new buildings have just been funded in the same manner that has become the fashion for museums, ie naming opportunities and so on.

The second point of interest for me is this: what next? It's wonderful that all of these museums have been all over the place in the news for their openings, but I hope that they have remembered that Year Two always brings a drop and that a solid marketing plan is essential to survival. But beyond just the issue of what happens after the opening parties have been forgotten like last year's New Year's resolutions is the question of what will happen next in the larger picture for museums? Can this boom continue? At what point does the market become saturated--or does it? And what happens with the other museums that haven't seen great growth in a market? The Art Museum of Western Virginia will soon open its Frank Gehry-look-alike building in Roanoke, but meanwhile down the street the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Explore Park are struggling with funding concerns.

But my question of "what next?" isn't a definite musing on gloom and doom. The overall long-term trend for museums seems to be positive: we saw a similar boom in the late 1990s, followed by a recession and economic hard times for museums, but clearly that downward spiral (that was definitely affected by the events of September 11, 2001) reversed itself fairly quickly. The stock market may be touchy lately and its anyone's guess what the new year will bring to the market, but
the long-range forecast for museums in general seems to be good.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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