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MBAs in the Museum

So I saw an interesting opinion piece on Artnet news by Maxwell Anderson. It was entitled “I Led the Indianapolis Museum of Art for Five Years. Here’s How Charles Venable, Its Recently Ousted President, Failed the Institution,” and, in it, Anderson says his predecessor at the Museum tried to run the place “like a business.” Where before the Museum had been, well, a museum, the new chap tried to make it into an “income generating attraction”…which was not going to happen, given the city and the neighborhood in which was located.

Now, confession: I don’t know anything about this story. I’ve never been to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I’ve never met either Anderson or Venable. I don’t know about anything about the situation, or what looks like a personal feud between the two men.

That said, my immediate and instinctual (biased?) response is to take Mr. Anderson’s critique seriously. That’s because I’ve run across situations like this many, many times…that is, tales of exquisite cultural institutions destroyed by “professionals” who set out to make them profit-making enterprises on the theory that Art, or Education, or Government “is a business like any other” and therefore best run like a business.

And, inevitably, when that theory of organization is applied…the result is disastrous. The museum becomes inaccessible to most people and, finally, sells off its masterpieces and closes its doors. The school fails to educate and student find themselves unequipped to deal with the future. The research institute is forced to focus on problems with a short-term profit, and the cure for cancer is disregarded in favor of a more effective method of applying botox.

Not Everything Is A Business

I have no idea how to fight this kind of thinking…this Master of Business Administration totalitarianism. But, I fear we have to do so….we have to fight it…or we will all find ourselves in serious trouble. Consider, for instance, of the fact that it was exactly this sort of thinking that let American businesses to move their industry overseas, to China, for a short term cost benefit…even though, in the long run, it damaged America critically, and may have handed the future to Beijing.

So…let us hope…

Let us hope that, someday, in a perfect or at least a better world, there will be a law against MBAs being involved with anything other than corporations, and mandating full a public flogging for those who get within 5 meters of any improving institution that people actually enjoy, and learn from.

Until next time…

Onward and Upward.



Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker

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