There are enough woes around from the art institutions nowadays that staff cut, hiring freezing or show canceling can hardly make a ripple in the turmoil of economic crisis. But the news that Montclair Art Museum is going to deaccession 50 artworks from today’s WSJ still disturbs me, not only because the public outcry of National Academy’s deaccessioning two works has not died out, but also because the tone that Lora Urbanelli, the director of the museum holds reflects that after repetition of deaccessioning activities from different institutions, American museums have gone astray with respect to the notion of what collections stand for. Collection becomes no long what defines an art institute, but just part of its asset which will be traded in or out due to its financial situation or curatorial tastes.
It is true that all non-profit organization face great challenges now as their endowment plummeted faster than stocks. Neither laying off staff nor deaccessioning artworks is the right way out. The former practice, especially cutting curatorial staff, erases the memory of the museum while the latter changes the identity of institution. Since to balance the budget, some expenditure has to be cut: Choices include canceling temporary exhibition (which can only save that much) or reducing the operation hours (which could cause more public stir).
Outside US, most European museums are governmental organization which are feeling pinched from the allocated budget. Based on a report in Bloomberg.com, museums fare best in France, where about 1 percent of the national budget is spent on culture each year, and this year’s package is up 5.9 percent — three times inflation — at 2.79 billion euros. However, most European institutions, icons of national glory and deluxe of the past, begin to lower their heads to seek funding from private sectors.
The National Endowment for the Arts has received 50 million dollars from the stimulus plan, which equals to almost nothing considering the number of non-profit art institutions which are struggling like Montclair Art Museum. It is true that American institutions would never expect a bail out plan from Barrack Obama’s administration, on the other hand, back in his campaign period, he emphasized the importance of arts in education and promised in reinvesting in Arts Education. If GM embodies American spirit as what some commercial advertises touts with patriotism, then American museums manifest the free spirit and also witnessed the rising power of a young country whose charisma has attracted the best arts and artists.