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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.

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