Sunday’s Arts & Extras column was a follow-up to Tuesday’s news story about the Taubman Talk About (see blog entry and comments here.) Further discussion welcome, of course. Also of note, last week the University of Chicago released a case study detailing the history of how the Art Museum of Western Virginia became the Taubman Museum of Art and the problems built into that process. Click here to read the study.
Taubman Museum of Art President and CEO David Mickenberg stirred debate about the future of the museum and its role in the community at Monday’s Taubman Talk About, where he said the museum will close if it doesn’t raise $1.4 million to cover a projected budget shortfall for fiscal year 2012-13.
He also said the museum needs a $20 million to $30 million endowment to cover one-third of its annual operating expenses in order to survive long term. “Without that, we’re dead.”
After reporting this news Tuesday, I wanted to provide more context to Mickenberg’s statements, gathered from subsequent interviews with him, and to flesh out some of the topics discussed at the Talk About. Museum board members referred all questions for this column to new President Patricia Kermes, who deferred to Mickenberg.
The financial situation Mickenberg described Monday isn’t new. At a Taubman town hall meeting held Nov. 11, 2010, Mickenberg’s description of the museum’s finances and future were very similar. At that time, Mickenberg said the Taubman needed to raise $1.2 million to $1.5 million to fill the hole in its annual budget. The next year the museum needed to raise another $1.2 million.
The museum’s annual expenses hover near $3 million, and so far the museum has only been able to count on about $1.5 to $2 million in annual revenue, so with each new fiscal year the Taubman must again tackle the problem of filling the gap.
Mickenberg’s starker tone at the Talk About marked a change. During the meeting, he said he had the approval of the board of directors in stating the Taubman would shut down if the budget gap wasn’t bridged. However, there was no timetable presented for when that might occur.
“There’s too many variables,” Mickenberg said after the forum. “We have a larger donor base, we have more variety [of supporters] but it’s still a challenge every year.”
The shift in tone comes because the museum wants to find a permanent solution, not because the funds can’t be raised, Mickenberg said Wednesday. “It is absolutely imperative that the museum develop an endowment, that the museum develop a permanent close to that gap.”
With an art museum, “the expenses are your mission,” Mickenberg said, and cutting them further could compromise the quality the Taubman strives to offer. “The city deserves a really high quality institution and they’re not cheap to run.”