“A Museum Conceived at the Cocktail Hour”

Washington Post architecture critic Phillip Kennicott, in his review of the new “Planet Word” museum, recently said this:

“Planet Word, which feels a bit like a museum conceived at the cocktail hour, … inhabits essentially the same universe as most of the museums that preceded it a century ago: It hopes to raise up the discourse, and spread the blessings of the educated and elite to those who hope to be educated and elite.”

This quote blew me away because it so perfectly describes legacy arts organizations and it illustrates why so many are in such deep trouble. Spreading the blessings of the educated and elite is a highly questionable undertaking these days and tomorrow’s audiences aren’t begging to be raised up by people who look down on them.

As we come out of this covid crisis, many traditional arts organizations will be forced to acknowledge the shameless condescension inherent in their missions, and consider whether they’re talking down to communities that aren’t looking up. If new audiences are happy with their place in the cultural hierarchy and just looking for stimulating ways to spend time with peers, arts organizations will have to stop trying to yank them up a ladder they don’t want to climb.

The pandemic is going to bump a lot of elite arts leaders out of their mahogany-paneled conference rooms and down out of their ivory towers and insist that they relate to the people in their communities as equals.

It’s tragic that it had to happen in such a disruptive way, but such displacement is long overdue, and it may turn out that having elite arts leaders relate to their communities as equals – virus or no virus – is the most productive way forward.



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