So the question is, are museums part of the problem? What is the problem?
The problem is social and environmental justice. The problem is massively complex and multi-facetted. The problem is multi- trans- and inter-disciplinary. The problem is simple: it’s the financialisation of everything from the value of bees to the value of education, from culture as gentrification to the environmental externalties (the unquantified impacts, ironically the one thing that needs financialised). It’s so complex that it cannot be summarised into one or two sound-bites.
As Brian Holmes’ said in his post ‘Culture Beyond Oil‘,
The secret is out: less than 1 percent of our planet’s population is destroying our world for their profit.
So why are museums part of the problem? and for museums read major arts and cultural organisations.
There are at least a couple of issues:
One is about the ‘career structure’ of the artworld where a lot of people work for free or minimum wage (in their studios or communities or wherever) and a few people become incredibly rich (sometimes the artists, always the dealers). The Scottish Artists Union worked with the Scottish Arts Council and the resulting report showed that a very significant proportion of visual artists make almost no money from their work and have to support their practice from other work. The economy of the visual arts is very challenging and individual artists have always been some of the most precarious workers.
Another is the increasing corporate involvement in the arts – this has always been a factor in the US and the Art Workers Coalition campaigned on this issue forty years ago. In the UK it was significantly encouraged under the Thatcher government. One of the effective lines of critique is offered by PLATFORM with their challenge to BP’s funding of the Tate (as well as other cultural ‘majors’). They argue that this is a form of social license to operate. They need many different forms of legal licenses to operate, but they also need social permission. Cultural organisations, especially the large ones like Tate Britain and the Portrait Awards, are very effective means to demonstrate good corporate citizenship. Good corporate citizenship is not just judged on the funding of cultural majors, it is also a question of actual citizenship across the world.
In relation to the current campaign against censorship and in particular the proposed SOPA & PIPA bills its worth considering Temporary Services‘ project Designated Drivers (link to pdf), in which they asked twenty artists and groups to “each put up to 4GB of their archives, research, films, videos, software, images, etc on USB drives” – the visitors to the exhibition were “invited to copy everything!”