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Archive for April, 2009


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.


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.

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.

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!

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.