With my final column of the year, I’m taking a look back at what 2010 brought us. For the sake of concision, I’ve narrowed down my summary to five major stories that both brought enjoyment and kept arts supporters guessing.
Taubman Museum of Art
Of all the arts and culture stories to unfold over the past year, the $66 million behemoth in Roanoke hands-down wins in physical size, cultural significance and volume of controversy.
The Taubman Museum of Art brought a number of thought-provoking presentations and exhibits to the region, including a memorable lecture by actress Anna Deavere Smith and exhibitions focused on folk art, the history of African-American photography and the commemoration of American military personnel who died in Iraq.
Unfortunately, the museum’s programming tended to be overshadowed by developments that raised questions about its viability, including staff resignations and layoffs; the resignation of board member Jenny Taubman, whose family forms the museum’s namesake; revenues falling short of unrealistic projections; and most recently, the revelation that the company that runs Norah’s Cafe, the museum restaurant, wants out of its contract.
It’s unlikely that anyone envies the tasks facing David Mickenberg, the executive director hired in September 2009 to get the ship on course. To his credit, Mickenberg grabbed the bull by the horns in November, calling a town hall meeting attended by museum supporters and media in which he charted a new direction for the institution, a shift from running it as an international tourist attraction to becoming a regional arts center. He also revealed the museum needs to raise $1.2 million annually to keep its doors open.