Museums, like ice skating, should be free

Worcester Art Museum’s new(ish) director, Matthias Waschek, was featured in the Boston Globe on Sunday in an article about new directors of area museums.

He answers a few questions, including:

Q.Is there one thing you wish people could see at your institution?

A. My absolute favorite in this museum is Paul Gauguin’s “The Brooding Woman.” It’s our Mona Lisa.

Q. What’s your favorite museum in the Boston area?

A. I love the MFA. It’s a phenomenal collection, but it’s also an incredible way of reaching out to its constituencies. And they are not afraid of raising questions that others do not want to touch. To what point is a Harley Davidson art? Which is a phenomenal question to ask.

There

was a bit of controversy with the answer to another question:

Q.Should museums be free to the public?

A. You can only ask this from context to context. A museum that gets public money is free. The MFA doesn’t get a dime. Nor do we, of public money. So you have to look at where is the best way of getting income.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council, of course, does provide funding to WAM, and its spokesman expressed disappointment at the comments.

Waschek then clarified his comments:

I intended to put the issue in the context of museums in Europe, where recurring unrestricted public funding is counted on as part of the institutional budget each year,” he said in the statement. “Massachusetts is investing generously in WAM: in the past two years, the Massachusetts Cultural Council alone supported us with $405,900 both in restricted and unrestricted funds. On a national level, [Institute of Museums and Library Services] invested in the same time period $123,679 in restricted funds.

This is of tremendous help for an annual budget of $9,000,000, and yet… For cultural institutions like us to fulfill our potential as an economic and social force in the community, more needs to be done at the state and federal levels. Every dollar directed towards culture is an investment in our future. Free access to culture for the general public is an ideal and something for all of us to work towards with the appropriate financial support.

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