Gopnik reports that the Hirshhorn — the national museum of contemporary art, the one funded by the American taxpayers — will host a Janet Cardiff lecture on Sept. 28. Admission will be open only to students with ID, invited guests (disclosure: press is invited), and donors who give $100 or more to the Hirshhorn. As best anyone can remember, this is the first time the Hirshhorn has held an exclusionary educational event.
The Hirshhorn is not a private museum such as the Phillips Collection or MoMA. It is a public museum, funded by you and me. The U.S. Congress would never charge $100 to allow the public to attend a U.S. Senate debate. The national musuem of contemporary art shouldn’t either.
It’s fine if the Hirshhorn wants to derive a fundraising benefit from the visits of artists and other distinguished guests. Hold a cocktail party or a dinner with Cardiff and invite only high-dollar folks. But lectures and talks are a critical part of any museum’s educational program. At the Hirshhorn these programs have always been free to the museum’s funders: the public. They should remain that way.
Olga Viso will become the museum’s director on Sept. 1. Here is the first thing she should do on her first day: Announce that Hirshhorn educational events, such as artist’s talks and lectures, will always be free and open to the public. That includes the Cardiff talk. We’re watching.