The Association for Art Museum Directors (AAMD) met in Mexico on January 2015. During this exchange Darren Walker president of the Ford Foundation stated the following.
"We should not need to defend the arts—nor to protect the arts.
The arts deserve celebration, not defense.
They demand affirmation, not protection.
Our society’s undervaluing of the arts and overvaluing of the market reflects and reinforces a perversion of justice—indeed, a pervasive injustice. And this injustice goes by the name of inequality." (Source)
As an Curator who has studied the disciplines of art history and art business, I find this statement to be particularly challenging. Whereas I understand the point he is trying to articulate, I cannot help but wonder why even today both my worlds have to live exclusive of each other.
I agree with him completely in that the arts institutions are responsible for so much more than producing marketable data, and that all the happiness that art brings cannot be quantified with a single amount. But I also think that having all the information readily available does not hurt anyone.
I hear from my contemporaries all the time and see in my own practice, that this new focus on art economy has shifted, now people come into museums and ask the staff about the economic values of artworks. I often have conversations about how it is not the institutions job to explicitly define value, granted! We are not the Art Market, or the auction house but we are here to serve the public, we are here to inform them about art, be it intrinsic value, societal value or economic. I certainly understand the problems that may arise if people knew the price tags of some of the pieces in the galleries, but what about the benefits? Why are we disregarding the benefits that are associated with speaking about value?
I agree that society attacks the arts in more ways than one, and my particular job description doesn't say anything about protecting art, or defending it. I don't even want to recall the countless times in which I have had to defend my aesthetic choices. Yes! it is unjust and unfair that people don't value art as much as they do other disciplines. But this is where I think we need to look introspectively as museum officials, we need to grow less concern about the bottom line of our institutions or the rules of the game.
As a curator I think that I need to provide my audience with any and all information they require to have a meaningful interaction with art, if people are more concern about the monetary value of a work then my curatorial statement then there might be something wrong YES! but this means there might be something wrong with the way I am presenting this information.
In order to combat this inequality, we must push the boundaries. We must create interesting exhibitions that relate to the people, we must provide the information they desire and not do this for them, but with them. As curators we are liaisons between people and art, if they people don't care for the arts then maybe we forgot how to do our jobs to begin with.
I am not just a Curator, I am an agent for social change.