Tyler Green
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The sudden sexiness of museo-success metrics

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What defines success for an art museum? It’s one of those wonky questions art lovers don’t think much about… until somewheres such as MOCA or the Corcoran simultaneously dissolve and implode.

Yesterday morning I tweeted and Facebooked out a link to a bit of wonkery titled “Metrics of Success in Art Museums,” a paper current Dallas Museum of Art director Max Anderson wrote for the Getty Leadership Institute in 2004. In the paper, Anderson dismisses attendance and exhibition-blockbusterhood as useful ways of measuring museum success and lays out some ideas on how museum directors and trustees should measure whether or not they’re doing a good job. To my astonishment, my Twitter and Facebook followers RT’d, liked and shared the PDF like mad.

I’m glad there’s an appetite for it. It’s good stuff. Even though some of the statistical data points have moved a bit in the eight years since Anderson wrote it, the underlying principles are entirely au courant. I’ve referred to it often over the years. I strongly suspect no one at MOCA nor the Corcoran has read it. If MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch can tear himself away from announcing disco exhibitions to New York publications (from one Gallerist NY to another?), I think he’d learn a lot. His board would learn more.

Apparently I’m not the only one with museum-success metrics on the brain: A couple weeks ago Leonie Fedel of the Getty Leadership Institute wrote this blog post on the topic. One of the commenters on the blog post was one M. Anderson of Dallas, Tex., who took strong issue with a metric recently proposed by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad. Don’t miss it.

Related: The fantastic William Poundstone also seized on EliEconomics.

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  1. Steven Miller says:

    Max Anderson’s paper about how to measure the success of an art museum is encompassing and correct, even if a few years old. Unfortunately attendance is a false measure of institutional success. The reason it is used is simple: so much of what a museum does is not measurable. This makes trustees in particular annoyed. They want easy, quantifiable statistics to assess the museum for which they are supposed to be responsible. Businessmen, and I use the gender purposely, who populate boards are especially prone to looking at numbers as ways of judging places. Museum attendance rests on many variable over which museums have no control. These include the weather, location of a museum and the people who visit it, potential and actual visitor’s personal and work schedules, economics (poor people have more important things on their minds than what’s showing at a nearby museum), free-time habits, etc. Of course, we in the museum field have partially if not entirely caused the emphasis on attendance figures as a measure of success. It all started when the late Thomas Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, almost single-handedly created the “blockbuster” art exhibit as we know it today. While there were great cries of commercialism from within our field, few museums avoided the quest for ramping up visitor numbers.

    Steven Miller
    Morristown, NJ

  2. […] ArtInfo, an article entitled “The sudden sexiness of museo-success metrics“ discusses the near-viral attention that a paper by Maxwell L. Anderson: ”Metrics […]

  3. […] mismanagement of MOCA managed to make a near-decade-old scholarly paper on museum metrics success such an internet hit that even the New York Times picked up on […]

  4. […] – there are some good general posts about museum metrics that have recently surfaced. Worth reading too. Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  5. […] “The Sudden Sexiness of Museo-Success Metrics” (Modern Art Notes: Art Focused Journalism by Tyler Green), July 11, 2012 […]

  6. […] that measurement. (For example, it was mentioned recently in a post on Tyler Green’s art blog: http://blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes/2012/07/the-sudden-sexiness-of-museum-success-metrics/ ) Screen Shot of the The sudden sexiness of museo-success […]

  7. […] thing that we all seem to want but don’t always get around to defining in advance (gosh, even defining metrics for success after the fact is a challenge), doesn’t always come with the payoffs we expect. It’s complicated, and […]

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