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OWL’S HOOTS No. 12: A TIME FOR ACTION

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Hoots No. 12 – 8 December 2009: Global Climate Change and Museum Advocacy

In some recent commentary on challenges facing museums over the next several decades, the issue of controversy and advocacy has been mentioned. For instance, over at Museum 3.0 in the Forum  a post by Lynda Kelly reports item 5 of the nine big themes  for 2010 identified by Australian Museum director Frank Howarth as “Increasing our advocacy: taking a stance on things that matter”.

It should not be thought that museums have not been dealing with controversy or been concerned with advocacy though sometimes that advocacy has been rather muted and some controversial issues have been avoided.

Lynda Kelly has posted a very useful brief commentary on this subject  and referenced an article “Museum Authority Up for Grabs: The Latest Thing, or Following a Long Trend Line?” by Daniel Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center Museum program in the Fall 2009 issue of the journal Exhibitionist (p 6-10).

Global climate change is considered by many people to be the major issue confronting human society and the environment though in recent months people in some countries such as the US have put the issue at the bottom of their list of concerns. In this situation museums have the credibility and the responsibility to place in publicly accessible places information which is credible and authoritative.

If museums are concerned about advocacy then this issue – global climate change – is something to communicate about right now.

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The Monday 7 December issue of the Sydney Morning Herald contained an article by Deborah Smith referring to a document on climate change put together by Brett Parris who is a Research Fellow at Monash University and Chief Economist for World Vision Australia.

Entitled “University tackles sceptics’ arguments” it commenced, “As World leaders gather in Copenhagen, efforts to undermine public confidence in the science of climate change have intensified. Sceptics have recently gained traction by exaggerating uncertainties in the research”.

Parris’ full document addresses 21 common objections to the arguments put forward in support of the proposition that global climate change is occurring and that it is due to activity of humans, principally through industrialization and the emissions of CO2. From my reading of documents at realclimate.org and other articles and presentations I would conclude that Parris’ document is as good a summary of the arguments and the evidence and an excellent refutation of the claims of others as I have seen.

One of the major parts of Parris’ document concerns the economic impacts of action to mitigate the effects of climate change. He points out that such action would have an impact of about 0.1 or 0.2 percent decline in income growth compared with “business as usual” (not taking account of an negative impact of climate change which is very important); this translates to a delay of four months or so by 2050 in reaching a certain target level.

(A video of a talk at the “One Just World” Forum in Melbourne 30 July 2008 by Brett Paris can be seen on YouTube (Part 1 and Part 2).

At the end of the document, Parris quotes Nobel prize-winner in economics Paul Krugman: “Writing after the vote on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the US Congress, Krugman considered the implications of unmitigated climate change for the US economy and for future generations. He concluded that continued denial of the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change, with the aim of thwarting action to reduce emissions, was a form of treason:

“So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement. But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason “treason against the planet.”

Museums, especially natural history museums have concern for the natural environment and the future of the planet and life on it as a major focus of their endeavours. Whilst objectivity is often promoted as an important feature of the communications of museums, integrity must never be compromised. That includes a responsibility to communicate the latest understandings based on the best scientific research.

The document prepared by Brett Parris is a comprehensive summary of what is known about global climate change and its consequences. The issue of how the threat is to be mitigated is a different matter. But at least as Parris shows various alternative suggestions that climate change is not occurring or that it is caused by factors other than human activity cannot be supported on the evidence. And neither can the assertion that addressing the threat will cause economic disruption of great magnitude!

Over at New Matilda an item entitled “The Global Copenhagen Editorial” published December 7 reports that “On Monday more than 50 newspapers across the world published a common editorial calling for global action on climate change” but you won’t read it in Australia

“The following editorial was published on Monday by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. Most of the newspapers featured it on their front page. But you won’t read it in Australia. According to a report in the Guardian, “The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, pulled out [of the joint initiative] at a late stage after the election of climate change sceptic Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition Liberal party recast the country’s debate on green issues.”

The editorial begins, “Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

“Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.”

So what will your museum do?

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 11

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Hoots No. 11 – 23 September 2009: The Future of Museums: an interview with Thomas Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Darwin Centre opens at The Natural History Museum in London.

The Art Newspaper recently published a long interview with Thomas Campbell, recently appointed director of the Metropolitan Museum succeeding Philippe de Montebello. The interview gives interesting insights into the future of one of the most prestigious museums in the World. The Met has had to cut back some of its staff after it lost 25% of its endowment in the GFC.

Campbell intends to form a programmatic committee including representatives from departments beyond the curatorial to advise him on exhibitions, replacing the former Council of Advisors comprsing heads of curatorial departments.

Campbell also responds to some comments by Tate Director Serota and British Museum director MacGregor to the effect that British Museums respond more directly to the public than do American museums.

Campbell’s plans offer an interesting counterpoint to the comments made recently in the two part “Future of Museums” program on ABC Radio National’s program ‘Future Tense’ on September 3 and 10.

I have previously commented on Thomas Campbell whose appointment as director of the Met I consider to be one of the most signficant of senior appointments at any museum in the last decade. Remember that Campbell is a specialist in tapestries, not notable for fundraising or managerial ‘wizardry’ and had been a curator at the Met for several years and that when asked why he was appointed, the Chair of the Board referred to Dr Campbell’s “great passion for art”.

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The Art Newspaper: How do you think your leadership of the Met may differ from Philippe de Montebello’s?

Thomas Campbell: I came to the museum because it was an incredibly exciting place to work as a scholar in my field. Philippe was a major contributor to the environment that made it such an exciting place and I have every intention of sustaining and developing the strengths of this institution: maintaining a dynamic exhibition programme, the award-winning publication programme, continuing to acquire masterpieces, but also to expand study collections where it”s appropriate, and continuing to place the emphasis on the encounter of our visitors with the objects, trying to really create the environment for that direct experience without bells and whistles. Will I be introducing change? I guess it”s evolution rather than revolution.

TAN: Will your leadership style be the same as his?

TC: “I am who I am. I’m certainly not going to try and adopt a grand-style persona…

In terms of actual leadership style, this institution is quite feudal. We have 17 curatorial departments, many of which are equivalent to medium-size museums. One reason we are a place bursting with ideas and initiatives is that Philippe allowed and encouraged ideas to bubble up through the departments and he was very supportive of initiatives brought to him from his curatorial staff. Having experienced the benefits of that myself, I very much intend to maintain it.

One of the steps I will be taking this autumn is formulating a programmatic committee that will act as a forum … Up until this point the way exhibitions have been approved is that curators or department heads would bring a proposal to Philippe and he would say yes or no. I will still be the person who makes that decision, but at a time when we have got to make less go further, and I can’t green light everything, this is a forum in which the curatorial body itself – it will also have representatives from editorial, operations, education – will have to take a bit more responsibility for what is brought forward. But I see it as a constructive dialogue that I trust will make sure that projects that might be considered as cross-departmental have their possibility fully aired…

TAN: You want to maintain the direct encounter with a work of art, but people demand information. Is there enough information in the galleries?

TC: We need to find the right balance between creating a direct and meaningful encounter with a work of art without there being the impediment of an overly didactic contextualisation. At the same time, much of our audience is very sophisticated and wants a lot of information. .. We are at an exciting time because new technology does give us the opportunity to deliver all sorts of different levels of information to different audiences in a very discreet way. I think handheld devices and audio tours have huge potential beyond where they are now .. I don’t want to be overly typecast as being wonkish on technology, but I think it is one of the major frontiers at the moment because it has the potential to so enrich and transform the visitor experience.

The Met has put a lot of effort into the audio guides it supplies to exhibitions, and we have a certain amount of audio guide information for our permanent collections, but that is an area that needs to be hugely expanded. Then we need to enrich the different levels that people can get to. We also have to think of different languages so that our large international audience is properly catered to. The National Gallery in London, the Tate, the Louvre are all experimenting with devices that besides delivering an audio tour will deliver visuals on a handheld device. The danger is that there’s something so compelling about a digital image that all too quickly the object in front of you becomes an illustration to the narrative you’re holding in your hand.

TAN: British Museum director Neil MacGregor and his counterpart at the Tate, Nicholas Serota, recently differentiated US museums, deemed in thrall to their moneyed boards, from European and particularly British museums, which they maintain serve the public more directly.

TC:  … At the end of the day, the Met has bought more objects, has organised more exhibitions, has undertaken more scholarly publications than any other museum in the world as a result, simply because of the enthusiastic support of the donors and our trustees. There’s this caricaturish notion that people fall back on … but my experience of our board is that it is comprised of individuals who take their role extremely seriously in terms of both advice or financial support.

… This is a great institution because of the farsighted support over so many years by individuals who are consciously contributing to build it and make it better.

The impression they were giving was that there was some sort of constraint. We are not constrained. On the contrary we have got the ability to go out and fundraise and find support for different initiatives that allow us to do things that very few European institutions are able to.

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The Art Newspaper also published on its Museums page on 16 September a short article on the new Darwin Centre at The Natural History Museum in London.

In The Guardian for 17 July Maev Kennedy wrote, “One of the most startling additions to any British museum, the new £78m “cocoon” at the Natural History Museum in London – an enigmatic white blobby form eight storeys high and 65m long inside a giant glass box – will open to the public on 15 September, it was announced yesterday. Michael Dixon, the director of the museum, said he hopes the new building – properly known as the Darwin Centre, but dubbed the cocoon even by staff – will leave visitors “with a real sense of awe and wonder at nature”.

Further information is available at the Museum’s own website.

Those with a long memory might recall the bitterly critical comments which greeted the appointment and announced corporate plan of former primatologist and Open University Professor Dr Neil Chalmers, appointed director of the Museum in 1989. The Darwin Centre – this is Stage 2 – was a major project of (now) Sir Neil Chalmers who retired a couple of years ago to become Warden of Wadham College at Oxford University .

Here are some extracts from the commentary from that time. We can wonder how reliable the opinions and forecasts of doom were.

(I have put an article from 1990 about this issue in the essay section.)

In the 3 May 1990 issue of Nature, Henry Gee (“Taxonomy pays for bad image”), wrote, “Researchers at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London went on a one-day strike on 24th April to protest against the museum’s controversial 1990-95 corporate plan, which proposes the loss of 51 out of 300 research and curatorial posts during the next two years. Many of the tenured posts are to be replaced with short-term fellowships (see Nature 344: 805, 26 April 1990) a move that will improve the NHM’s financial health but may threaten its standing as a taxonomic research centre. On 26 April, the researchers resolved to strike again tomorrow (Friday, 4 May) if the museum’s director, Neil Chalmers refused to withdraw the plan.

“Scientists at other UK museums are concerned at the damage that might be done by the new plan.  Taxonomic research, in which the NHM is pre-eminent, is “deeply unsexy”, according to Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, but is the “bedrock” of all biological research, and in the light of concern over decreasing global diversity the cuts come at “just the wrong time”.  Andrew Knoll, of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, finds it “a little sad” that the study of biodiversity in the United Kingdom is thought so marginal that the NHM will close departments “in which they have been major contributors”.  Ken Joysey, curator of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, condemned the cuts as “ludicrous”.

The issue was raised in the British Parliament: In the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 21 June, Tam Dalyell MP pointed out that the real threat to Britain is not “the armies of Mr Gorbachev”, but global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and other environmental problems.  He told the House how the Museum provides “crucial raw material for the battle against that threat”.

During the half hour allowed for the debate, Shadow Arts spokesman Mark Fisher MP joined Dalyell in pressing Richard Luce on funding for the Museum. Whilst supporting the approach set out in the Corporate Plan, Luce revealed that the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government is in discussion with the Director and the Chairman of Trustees about its wider implications.

An editorial in Nature on 2 August 1990 said, among other things, “The British Natural History Museum has taken too short and too jaundiced a view of it’s own future as a research institution. It should mend its ways, and quickly… What emerges most clearly from the long controversy is that the corporate plan .. was a serious error of judgment. Faced with the prospect of a nasty financial squeeze … the museum plumped for the wrong solution, that of cutting back on an already inadequate intramural research programme…. It would have been possible to cut back instead on the museum’s second function of mounting attractive public exhibitions…”

The editorial went on to repeat some of the claims about “unfortunate” language of the corporate plan, expresses doubts about whether the emphasis on ‘front of house’ activities would save the museum “from the troubles that lie ahead” and observed that entrance charges would not pay the extra cost of the exhibitions envisaged as bringing more visitors and therefore earnings. It asked, “should not the museum be making the case for relief from [further financial] squeezes [two or three years from now]?… It should also do more than has yet been done to show that there is substance in its hope that support for research at the museum will indeed be provided by the research councils..”

Two months later, 4 October 1990, a letter in Nature from Dr Colin Patterson and many distinguished scientists representing the “science defence committee” (of which Patterson was chairman) said, “The crisis at London’s Natural History Museum … has now lasted more than four months and shows no sign of ending.  The essence of this crisis is that the plan will result… in narrowing the span of taxonomic and systematic research in this museum. .. About a thousand letters of protest have been sent to the relevant minister by our colleagues from all over the world who recognise that this museum is the world centre for taxonomic expertise… There have been two days of strikes; and there has been a storm of press comment, nearly all of it critical of the plan.

“A new management structure, with imposed separation of curation from research for some 150 people, has been forced down our throats, as has also a brutal system of short-term contracts for researchers.  And our prizewinning design team is still threatened with extinction.  Moreover, the director’s main response to the letters of protest is blandly to point out their usefulness in the search for funding, since they demonstrate that the taxonomic community of the whole world is interested in the fate of the Natural History Museum ..”

Some of these issues remain with us in various museums 20 years later. The Natural History Museum recovered to be one of the strongest museums in the World; the list of scientific publications by Museum staff for 2008-09 runs to 73 pages. Some other museums faced with reductions in funding and a lack of recognition by governments of the importance of taxonomy and evolutonary studies to the understanding and sustainability of biodiversity have not recovered!

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8 – June 3rd, 2009

In general the process of evaluation of teachers’ performance has been completely unsatisfactory; it is no wonder many teachers object to performance pay! There are parallels with many other organisations. Are museums irrelevant? Sea levels have risen! Two books on science and a wonderful review of books on Darwin and evolution by Richard Lewontin who asks, “What if Charles’ nose had been larger?”

 

Teacher evaluation and ‘loose coupling’: Elizabeth Kleinhenz & Lawrence Ingvarson of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Australia (Research Papers in Education Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2004) investigated the processes for teacher assessment in “Teacher Accountability in Australia: current policies and practices and their relation to improvement of teaching and learning”. It seems that like most of the research on schooling and teaching, little notice has been taken of it. There are parallels with what happens in performance assessment in most organisations.

Kleinhenz and Ingvarson begin with the following statement. “If teaching well is something most teachers can learn to do over time, not just a bundle of personality traits, insightful formative assessment and coaching systems are vital. If experienced and effective teachers are to be kept close to the classroom and provide leadership to other teachers, professionally credible summative assessments systems will be needed that can provide them with the recognition they deserve for evidence of high levels of professional development.”

They observe, “In most cases, assessment is related to promotion to position of additional responsibility where the tasks have little to do with teaching. “There are wide gaps between managerially designed and implemented procedures and the realities of what teachers actually know and do-the “technical core’ of teaching. … In most Australian schools and systems, we suspect, teachers’ real work remains well and truly buffered from the kind of professional scrutiny that could contribute to its improvement and provide the public with genuine guarantees of its effectiveness and quality.”

While in some cases applicants for promotion can submit details of their work, in many cases they are simply asked to address criteria that relate to the position. It is not that which is of concern but that promotion – higher pay – is only possible by taking responsibility for administrative and organisational tasks such as dealing with complaints, timetabling, student grouping and events. Further, the panel reviewing the applications spend little time on the process despite the consequences of appointment. Principals generally manage the process but may delegate it. In particular, genuine leadership which is essential to successful school is absent. Think of many other organisations employing large numbers of technical professional people. (Think also of successful orchestra conductors!)

The management expert Karl Weick (“Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems”, Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 1976) developed ‘loose coupling theory’ to describe this gap between the technical core, rewards and ‘actors’.

Some education systems including New South Wales and some parts of the American (US) system have developed better arrangements which in particular provide for promotion based on technical competence and involve careful review of performance through peer review.

Some economists, politicians and parents are fond of advocating paying teachers on the basis of their performance. If the evaluation process is no good what would be gained by such a system. And what about formative evaluation?

Are museums irrelevant?: Bob Janes has recently had published a book with this title; he has summarised his views at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. I have commented on issues relevant to this at an earlier post on my site – and an associated essay and more recently and at “Managerialism buried (I wish)” My comments on this book and the responses are on Museum 3.0 and also at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. Etc etc

 

Sea Level Rise! In “Refugees Join List of Climate-Change Issues” (New York Times May 28, 2009) Neil MacFarquar reports that Huene, an island in the Carteret chain in the South Pacfic, has been bisected by the sea. “With their boundless vistas of turquoise water framed by swaying coconut palms, the Carteret Islands northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland might seem the idyllic spot to be a castaway.But sea levels have risen so much that during the annual king tide season, November to March, the roiling ocean blocks the view from one island to the next, and residents stash their possessions in fishing nets strung between the palm trees.”

 

Wonderful books on science! On the Science Show on ABC Radio National on 30 May Marcus Chown discussed some of the ideas explored in his latest book, “Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You” and Michael Brooks discussed some of the ideas in his latest book, “Thirteen Things that Don’t Make Sense”: the anomalies in science, such as dark matter, dark energy and varrying physical constants, are in a way, the only things that matter.

Richard C. Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University and author of “The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change” and “Biology as Ideology” and other books reviews, in the New York Review of Books for May 28, a number of books about Charles Darwin – there are a huge number published this year, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th of the publication of “The Origin of Species”.

Lewontin begins, “When I was a student I was enjoined to reject the “Cleopatra’s Nose” theory of history, so called after Pascal’s remark in the Pensées : “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter, everything in the world would have changed.”[1] The intent was not to dismiss biography as a way into the structuring of a historical narrative, but to reject the idea that the properties, ideas, or actions of some particular person were the necessary conditions for the unfolding of events in the world. If Josef Djugashvili had never been born, someone else could have been Stalin.”

Lewontin concludes, “It seems that Cleopatra’s is not the only nose in question. In his brief Autobiography Darwin writes of his successful visit to Captain FitzRoy to arrange for his trip on the Beagle:

“Afterwards, on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge of a man’s character by the outline of his features; and he doubted that anyone with my nose should possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.

“But what if it had been bigger?”

Lewontin’s article, as always, is terrific and full of very interesting ideas.

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 3

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Owls Hoots No. 3, 10 April 2009: John Florio on scholars, the dangers of inequality arising from neoliberalism, the superorganisms known as ants, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil and museums in London expanding. Museums as Happiness Pioneers. And the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.

The scholars angry quill: Here is a further quotation from John Florio (1553 – 1625), linguist, lexicographer and translator of Montaigne, which comes from “Giordano Bruno Philosopher Heretic” by Ingrid Rowland:

“Be circumspect how you offend schollers, for knowe,
A serpents tooth bites not so ill,
As dooth a schollars angrie quill”

More on the impact of “the market”: Last week, under the heading of managerialism buried, I referred to the ABC Radio National Background Briefing program on MBAs. Managerialism is a flow on from market fundamentalism: small government, privatisation, deregulation, efficiency, acountability and so on. The result has been, along with the well known reductions in social welfare, health and education, increased inequalities as the “˜top end of town gained huge increases in wealth whilst the poorer sections of society, if they were employed at all, gained little or even stood still. In the so-called “developed world” the USA and UK show the greatest inequalities whilst Scandinavian and some European countries and Japan show the least.

Reviewing “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Allen Lane), Lynsey Hanley (in the Guardian, 14 March),  quotes the authors, “inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet’s resources.”

The promised essay on managerialism and related matters is now posted. Included are a number of important conclusions concerning museums and organisations generally!

Ants ” Superior Civilisations: Two fascinating articles on ant societies ” super civilizations – have appeared recently. In the New York Review of Books, Tim Flannery reviews a new book by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson (and with line drawings by Margaret C. Nelson), “The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies” (published by Norton) and in the Guardian Alok Jha has a review of the views of Wilson and Holldobler (“Six legs good”, 9 March 2009).

Jha writes, “They developed architecture and built farms millions of years before we did. They work together so seamlessly that colonies are known as ‘superorganisms’. And they could hold the secret to working out how our brains evolved.”

US and Canadian Museums reduce budgets and staff: Martin Knelman (“Gallery endures a second, unwelcome transformation”, Toronto Star March 23, 2009)  reports that the Art Gallery of Ontario has not received the visitor numbers anticipated with the recent expansion designed by Frank Gehry. Budgets will have to be slashed and staff numbers reduced.

The overall space of the AGO increased 20 per cent, gallery space increased 50 per cent and the size of the collection doubled to more than 73,000 works of art. Practical operating costs ” security, maintenance, utilities ” have almost doubled ” and the annual budget went up to $52 million (more than $30 million of which is salaries). “Attendance has been running 20 per cent below projections for the past four months”. One factor perhaps is the $18 adult admission: the place is jammed every Wednesday night, when the entry fee is waived.”

(Last month it was reported – by James Bradshaw in the Globe and Mail March 3 -that buckets line the AGO’s staircase, while condensation blurs view from windows.)

Christine Kearney reported in YahooNews for March 13 that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closing 15 of its merchandising stores across the United States, leaving only eight stores open in New York and will cut about 250 jobs, or 10 percent of its workforce, before July 1.

The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has announced a hiring freeze will cut salaries by 5 percent. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles almost had to close until billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad came up with a $30 million rescue plan in 2008.

In other US cities there are also reductions in budgets and staff losses. Endowments have dropped by around 20 per cent. Faced with a dramatic drop in revenue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will cut its staff and budget by 6 percent, and reduce exhibitions and programs by as much as 20 percent next year. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has also cut its budget by 5 per cent and may lose another 5 per cent later.

Museums in London expanding: Meanwhile in London, Tate Modern and the British Museum are expanding. Jonathan Glancey (The Guardian, 1 April 2009, “Why Tate Modern’s extension stacks up“), informs us, “When Tate Modern opened in 2000, visitor numbers were expected to be 1.8 million a year at tops. Almost a decade on, the figure is 4.6 million. Even though Tate Modern’s home, the former Bankside power station, is a colossus, the sheer number of people visiting throughout the year has made an extension almost inevitable.”

Tate Modern 2, “a dramatic origami-like unfolding of brick and glass” designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the Swiss architects who transformed the redundant power station to the new Tate Modern is expected to open some time between 2012 and 2014. The British Government has subscribed £50m towards the anticipated £215m total cost.

ArtInfo announced April 2  that “with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Modern, and now the British Museum all touting expansion plans, it seems the global economic downturn hasn’t taken the London art world with it. The British Museum announced this week an ambitious £135 million ($198 million) extension intended to accommodate blockbuster exhibitions. It is expected to open 2012.”

Meanwhile the Museum of Modern Art has dramatically redesigned its website: check it out!

New York Arts consultant Adrian Ellis reviews the recession and US museums in the Art Newspaper Issue 200 of 11 March and discusses how to compensate for the loss of philanthropic, endowment and visitor incomes.

School visits to museums and museums as happiness pioneers:The March-April issue of Museum (published by the American Association of Museums) has two excellent articles, “Fun is no joke” (by Mary Ellen Flannery) reviewing school ” field trips to museums in the USA and museums as “happiness pioneers (“Fiero”, an exerpt from the Center for the Future of Museums lecture by Jane McGonigal). McGonigal’s lecture is available on the Future of Museums site along with other interesting items.

McGonigal says there are four things which seem to be “pretty universal” for people: satisfying work, the experience of being good at something, time spent with people we like and the chance to be part of something bigger.

Iraq and the BBC: British Foreign Secretary David Milliband announced last month that there would be an inquiry into the invasion of Iraq and the reasons for it.

“The pressure for an inquiry has been intense because many people believe that the war was illegal under international law and that Tony Blair, the then prime minister, twisted intelligence evidence in order to justify the invasion.”

When BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan reported the views of Dr David Kelly on the “intelligence” justifying the British Governments decision to join the US invasion of Iraq the Government forced his resignation which was followed by the resignation of Director-General Greg Dyke and Chairman Gavyn Davies. Kelly later committed suicide. An inquiry into the death of Dr Kelly by Lord Hutton was  denounced by critics as a kangaroo court.

Dyke was hugely popular. The incoming Chair and Director-General oversaw considerable downsizing which was protested by strikes. The responsible Minister talked of difficulties with funding. There is no indication that the BBC has managed to avoid slip ups in its broadcasting.

Will Millibands inquiry bring back David Kelly, repair the damage to the BBC, put Tony Blair on trial? Of course not!

This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 2

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Hoots No. 2 – 2 April 2009: A renaissance quotation about critics which may be just as valid today, caterpillars welcomed into the nests of ants. And the value of an MBA and the nature of managerialism revealed.

Beware of Critics: In Ingrid Rowland’s book ‘Giordano Bruno Philosopher/Heretic’ (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2008) there are two  quotations from John Florio (1553 – 1625) who was an accomplished linguist and lexicographer, a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, a probable close friend and influence on William Shakespeare and the translator of Montaigne. Here is one:

“As for critiks I accompt of them as crickets; no goodly bird if a man marke them, no sweete note if a man heare them, no good luck if a man have them; they lurk in corners, but catch cold if they look out; they lie in sight of the furnace that ryes others, but will not come neare the flame that should purifie themselves: they are bred of filth, and fed with filth, what vermin to call them I know not, or wormes or flyes, or what worse?”

I have drawn attention to critics before.

Next week, Florio’s view of scholars.
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Managerialism buried (I wish): The second most important issue which surfaced this week, so far as I am concerned, is managerialism. (The first continues to be global climate change, carbon emissions trading and related matters, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.)

ABC Radio National’s Stephen Crittenden reported an outstanding program on MBA’s (“Mostly Bloody Awful“) and along the way gave some references to outstanding research papers and popular articles on the subject.

The key points:

In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal (and author with, Robert Simons and Kunal Basu of “Beyond Selfishness”, MIT Sloan Management Review,   44/1, Fall 2002),

“Management is not a science, it’s not a profession, it’s a practice; you learn it by doing it.” (Art Gallery of New South Wales director of 30 years Edmund Capon said as much a couple of years ago; what can one say about Mr Capon’s wisdom? Clearly he deserved to have that $16 million dollar painting by Cezanne bought to commemorate his 30 years at the Gallery!) However!

According to Professor Rakesh Khurana (of Harvard Business School), “Whilst university”“based business schools started out with the intention of creating management as a profession, one in which managers would largely put the interests of society and the interests of the economic welfare of their firm before their own individual interests, this changed. Over a period of several decades this at first was neglected and then eventually abandoned. It was replaced by a very different type of orientation, shareholder maximisation. The manager became merely a hired hand of shareholders.”

According to Will Hopper, joint author with his brother of “The Puritan Gift”, the story of how the Puritans built America, the influence of Frederick Taylor (founder of Scientific Management theory, or Taylorism, and “the first management consultant”) led to business schools becoming obsessed with numbers and measurement. Management became a science that could be studied in a university.

“The emphasis in business shifted from people to figures and from quality to quantity. Talk was about the bottom line, employees became human resources, and the influence of the accountant increased dramatically. “Domain knowledge”, understanding of the business in all its facets (and the industry) was no longer so relevant. The business school MBA graduate emerged able to run any business. Companies are run through the accounts department. The characteristic of management became improving the numbers, not improving the product.”

All of this led to ‘heroic’ leadership, the view of humans as ‘economic man’ driven by self-interest, and therefore requiring oversight and ratings of performance, and the view that markets eventually resolved all conflicts involved in exchange of wants and needs: organisations only had utility if their costs in managing transactions were less than would otherwise obtain. In short wedges were driven between wants and needs and leaders and everyone else. Sets of fabrications, amongst other things about efficiency and effectiveness (which were conflated) and prosperity, rationalised the conduct of organisations.

In the view of management researchers Fabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert I Sutton (in “Economics Language And Assumptions: How Theories Can Become Self-Fulfilling”, Academy of Management Review, 30/1, p8-24, January 2005), social science theories can become self-fulfilling by shaping institutional designs and management practices, as well as social norms and expectations about behavior, thereby creating the behavior they predict. They also perpetuate themselves by promulgating language and assumptions that become widely used and accepted.

An essay with more detail on this will follow.
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Caterpillars and Bowerbirds, evolution at work: The Science Show (on ABC Radio National for 21 March) dealt with caterpillars welcomed into ants’ nests and Satin bowerbirds singing and dancing to robot female bowerbirds.

Professor Jeremy Thomas, Professor of Ecology & Professorial Fellow of New College University of Oxford UK was interviewed by Chris Smith (the BBC’s “naked scientist”). Thomas has found that invading caterpillars, normally snapped up with relish by ants, have managed to con their hosts. They have produced a chemical which mimics that produced by the ants. This is so successful that the ants carry them into he nests and feed them, Indeed in times are really tough, the ants kills their own grubs and feed the caterpillars. But they do better than that: the caterpillars produce sounds which are the same as those produced by the queen ants. Thomas and his team were able to place tiny microphones inside ants’ nests in t eh laboratory. “when we played back the sounds of the chrysalis to the ants, we found that the ants were reacting to the miniature speakers in exactly the same way as when we played queen ant sounds. In fact, if anything, they were behaving in more extreme forms and it attracted more ants and they sat on it and behaved almost as if they were super-queens.”

On the same program Robyn Williams interviewed Dr Gail Patricelli, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis “who has designed robots to look very much like satin bowerbirds. At Wallaby Creek, near Brisbane, she dressed her robots to look like female birds. The males then sing and dance around the robot. This enables Gail to observe and study the signals exhibited by the male as they try to win the hand, or wing of the female. In order to be successful in courtship, it’s not just show, but the ability to interact socially and adjust behaviour in response to female signals and other behaviour during courtship.”

By the way, Professor Rick Shine (Sydney University) has found that (native Australian) Meat Ants are voracious predators of baby Cane Toads but pose no threat to other native frogs. What was the response of the Northern Territory? A spokesman on the news said, “This is nothing new! What we need is research which shows us how to put a gene for eating toads into Monitor Lizards”. Right!
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Next week: John Florio on scholars, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil, exploiting new buildings and revamping websites. And (held over) the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.

This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.