Art Basel Miami panel with museum executives looked to the future –


Perhaps the most pressing topic in the world of art and culture in the United States these days is the question of who will run the museums in the country. Between the financial constraints induced by the pandemic and the urgent questions of social justice, museums are in a delicate situation: struggling to stay alive while they are propelled to the forefront of the news. And so a round table devoted to the subject at Art Basel Miami Beach on Wednesday – under the title “Reinventing the institution? New Museum Leaders – drew a crowd while offering some clues as to what the future may hold.

The panel featured three leaders relatively new to their institutions: Isolde Brielmaier, who was deputy director of the New Museum for three months; Johanna Burton, who was director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for 30 days; and Alison Gass, who has spent the past 18 months raising $ 2.5 million to start the Institute of Contemporary Art in San Francisco, where she is the director of a company slated to open next fall.

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Panelists and moderator, longtime cultural advisor (and recent author of a book on museum directors) Andras Szanto, agreed that the question mark in the title of the event does a lot of work. “I’m glad this was asked as a question and not as a statement,” Brielmaier said, “so that we can all reflect together.” No one has all the answers yet; rather, it’s a conversation that, at some point, could lead to the next steps. Here are some key points from the conference.

Johanna Burton: I think the crew [of museum directors] who are going to emerge in the next moment are directors of education or people who have been involved in education in an experimental way and I think that is a change… I think that education is one of the principles central to what museums do.

Isolde Brielmaier: People have called me a little polymath… I have worked in a range of different abilities [inside and outside of museums] … But always center artists in everything I do… It’s going to take mathematicians – people with a wide range of backgrounds – to tackle these jobs… It’s going to take a little creativity to think about how we are moving forward.

Brielmaier: The audience is everything… It’s my job… to determine how many entry points we can create for the work of the artists and the institution to allow so many diverse people [as possible] to come, engage and share their ideas and voices.

Brielmaier: I’m really interested in how to instill a culture of care in museums, and I think it starts at home… You can work at a very high level and do it with joy… It starts with the staff and the teams . How, as a leader, can I partner with them to create a different workplace? … When you create a culture of care behind the scenes, it spreads and your visitors feel it.

Brielmaier: [We need to look at] other sectors [where] they think about leadership in an innovative way and at a high level. How to be collaborative, intentional and inclusive?

Alison Gass: It can be a moment of hope [even though] it is a moment of crisis in the cultural sector.

Gas : I use the word agile a lot. And the word reactivity, and the idea of ​​relevance. The narrowing space between art and life seems large.

Burton: Museums have been set up in such a way that priorities based on class, gender and race that were invisible are now visible, so there is some kind of fix that needs to happen… I asked my staff and to my board and the public to think about what it’s like to have something that looks the same on the outside as it is on the inside. We made the ship transparent.

Gas : Museums must be direct [things] … The structure of the art world [has been such that for] careers in museums… there have been barriers to equitable access. You have to have the privilege of even having the opportunity to get a graduate degree in arts, to be able to have these positions that pay so little … And to have access and comfort [once you are in them]. The disparities between those at the board decision table and the rest… these are the basics.

Brielmaier: Artists [are now] saying: now all of you [in museums] you have to get on the plate. We need seismic changes, structural changes, maybe even outright paradigm shifts. For a lot of people who have worked in museums, this is a shock, and it can be divided according to the generations. For me, it’s people before projects, people before profits. You have to start with the people who make these museums what they are. These are the team members, reception staff, security guards, curators… I was interested in… doing a lot of one-on-one… retreats with departments to paint a picture blanc: How do you see your role? Time limit? workflow ? It’s about the culture that every team member comes to work in to get the job done. If this work culture is broken, and most of the time it is… I try to collaboratively find collaborative solutions and ideas to improve the workplace so that people can not only function, but also s ‘flourish.

Brielmaier: There was no way for me to take a leadership role unless I truly understood that I was ready for success. Too often, especially with the BIPOC candidates, we are asked to come with our capes for these rescue missions but there is nothing there to pin us down when we land, and generally the cape flies away. My wonderful boss [New Museum director] Lisa Phillips had so much patience with the interview process because I came back with the more probing questions. I wanted to be sure I was going to be able to fly.

Brielmaier: Retention is a problem. Part of it is related to culture. New [generation], the students I teach at NYU, will tell you that all the grinder stuff [my generation does] is not [for them]. They will say: we want to work three days a week, we need a new computer… They are very clear on what they need to do their job… We have to move away from this mantra: not broken, don’t fix it . If you do what you always have, you will get what you always got.

Gas : Museums shouldn’t just be places where you have to be quiet and be cerebral. Sometimes they are for that … [but they should also] to be a place where you should be able to be free and feel joy. Yell at a friend or laugh if that’s what the mind prompts you to do. This is my hope. There is still this perception that [museums are] a serious and elitist experience. We all need to do what we can to undo that… It has everything to do with education, engagement or public practice and putting these things together and making sure everyone has access points.

Brielmaier: The key is to know your audience – plural.

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