A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a story about museums and major donor naming.
Jerry Saltz, the super famous art critic – and husband of New York Times senior art critic Roberta Smith – staged a protest. He took out a piece of paper and changed the name of Koch Plaza at the Metropolitan Museum. The new name read: Climate Change Denier Plaza.
Mr. Saltz was perturbed by the Koch family’s politics and was/is offended by the Met allowing their beautiful, iconic fountains and entrance to be marred by a notorious climate change denier.
The article also discusses the Sackler family, and their role in the opioid epidemic. The writer points out that the Sacklers need a new profile. She suggests that “the art world should not help them achieve it.” In other words, museums and performing art centers should not take money from a Sackler.
Generally, I disagree.
Now, there are some instances which are clear cut. For example, The Museum of Natural History in New York recently had a vocal climate denying board member resign. This makes sense. The museum’s main mission is to disseminate science to normal folk. Having a science denier on the board charged with guiding the mission of the museum is very suspect. So that benefactor and all her money rightfully needed to move on. But most cases are not as clear cut as this.
The Bass Museum recently finished a yearlong discussion on climate change and came up with many innovative ideas which have been incorporated into our managing documents.
When the subject of donations from challenging sources came up, we all questioned the museum’s role as moral policeman. Our mission is to show art and educate. Judging where someone’s money comes from, and whether it is “ethical” money or not is a slippery slope.
We live in a polarized political environment, and what one person feels strongly about another might feel an opposite viewpoint. I believe in climate change. I believe that the opioid crisis is real and dangerous and needs to be addressed now. But both Sackler and Koch are currently operating legal companies. If we don’t like what they are doing, then vote for politicians to change the laws governing their respective industries. I will, and I do. But leave the museums and their boards out of it. It’s hard enough raising money as it is. Adding subjective filters to the process, however obvious these filters might seem, just isn’t right.