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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkPublished: December 11, 2009
(Page 2 of 2)
Maxwell Anderson, the director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which finished a major expansion in 2006 and is now completing a 100-acre park, said that “in part, all of us have been watching how these projects are perceived.”
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Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects
A digital rendering of the canceled Berkeley museum’s exterior and pedestrian walkway.
Architecture: A Berkeley Museum Wrapped in Honeycomb (November 25, 2008)
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Top and above, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, which owes $43.6 million of the $51.6 million borrowed for its new building.
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“There is a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses quality to museum building,” he continued.
The Dia Art Foundation, which once had big plans for a 34,000-square-foot, column-free space at the entrance to the High Line in New York — before losing a board chairman who was also its main benefactor in 2006 — announced last month that it would instead build a 25,000-square-foot space on the site of a former garage it already owns on West 22nd Street in Chelsea.
Philippe Vergne, who became Dia’s director last year, defended the original plans: “It was what the world was — more was more.” But the recession “forced us to slow down” and really consider institutional needs, he said. What the foundation wants now is a simple, utilitarian space that makes art the main event.
“I want the ambition to be for the program, not the building — not, ‘Let’s go big because we’re addicted to big,’ ” Mr. Vergne said.
The economic downturn has had this effect on a lot of arts organizations, said Adrian Ellis, the executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the founder of AEA Consulting, a leading arts consultant.
“Cultural buildings became the way in which cities articulate their identity and vitality — they were driven not by the artistic community but by a civic agenda,” he said. Now the economy is pushing organizations into “deep reflection about what their purpose is and how best to realize it,” he said — reflection that can lead back to an arts-focused agenda, and to a renewed concern about “protecting their capacity to take artistic risks.”
“When you overexpand, you limit your ability to take those risks,” Mr. Ellis said. “Although expansion is usually seen as a sign of health, it is not always a sign of vitality.”
Mr. Joynes, of the University of Chicago, said that his study of cultural building projects aimed to explore this issue. “Do you do many more ‘Swan Lakes’ and take fewer chances artistically because you have big bills to pay?” he asked.
Cultural agencies and foundations are also reflecting on the institutions they help finance, albeit in more practical terms.
“We have become increasingly concerned about the sustainability of organizations as a result of these building projects,” said Alice L. Carle, program director of the Kresge Foundation, which supports nonprofit organizations nationwide. Ms. Carle said her foundation had decided to prioritize “renovation and repair projects over new construction and large expansions.”
“We’re more interested in helping shore up what organizations have already built,” she said.
Many institutions, of course, managed to complete their big projects before the downturn, though some may be experiencing builders’ remorse. For example, the $461 million Carnival Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, designed by César Pelli — whose vision statement promised it would transform the city into “the cultural capital of the Americas”— ended its first year, in October 2007, with a $2.5 million operating deficit, thanks to low ticket sales and high operating costs. (It has been kept afloat with the help of a $30 million gift from a philanthropist, Adrienne Arsht, for whom the center has been renamed.)
In Chicago, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies owes $43.6 million of the $51.6 million it borrowed for its new building on South Michigan Avenue, completed two years ago. The institute’s galleries are now open only on alternate Sundays and the second Thursday of every month, its Wolfgang Puck kosher cafe is closed, and 26 percent of the staff has been cut.
The institute had expected income from event rentals and catering to help with revenue, and still hopes to find organizations that want to share the space. “We counted on a whole lot of weddings, bar mitzvahs, private parties,” said Hal M. Lewis, who became president and chief executive of Spertus in July. “These have materialized with less intensity than anticipated.”
Mr. Lewis, who was not around when the decision to build was made, says it was well intentioned, but describes the result as “an operating model and a debt service that requires us to live beyond our means.” Much of his energy these days is spent on efforts to change that result, though he tries not to dwell on what might not have been.
“I wish my hair would grow back too, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it,” Mr. Lewis said. “Now I’ve got to go on.”
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Sign in to RecommendMore Articles in Arts » A version of this article appeared in print on December 12, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.