Occupy Wall Street… or Museums?

Sorry for my absence last week – I’ll make up for it with a couple of new posts this week.

The topic of conversation today is Occupy Museums, a new scheme in the OCCUPY movement happening around the US. Last week, the Washington Post reported on this new movement, whose manifesto can be found here. First, I thought that I’d share a few of my favorite gems:

“The game is up: we see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%. No longer will we, the artists of the 99%, allow ourselves to be tricked into accepting a corrupt hierarchical system based on false scarcity and propaganda concerning absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite.”


“Let’s be clear. Recently, we have witnessed the absolute equation of art with capital … The wide acceptance of cultural authority of leading museums have made these beloved institutions into corrupt ratings agencies or investment banking houses- stamping their authority and approval on flimsy corporate art and fraudulent deals.”

Granted, I’ll give these protestors the fact that it’s hard to disassociate museums with cultural elitism.  And the last thing I want to do is call them, “sore losers,” as they put it in this manifesto by Paddy Johnson.  But isn’t this the age of the new museology? Haven’t museums already started to change?  Let’s take a look at the National Museum of the American Indian (which I went to yesterday for the first time, by the way. Very cool). The whole premise of the museum is that it works in collaboration with the people whose culture and art are being displayed.  These different native nations actually curated individual exhibitions about their culture and history. NMAI is is not created by or necessarily catering to the 1% at all.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is another example. NMAAHC is an entire museum dedicated to telling a part of American History that has been forgotten or discarded by the 1%. And these are federally funded museums. Our government is actively supporting institutions that speak to a very diverse America.

I think the quote that bothers me the most is: “Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are at your door!” Museums exist today because of a belief in sharing the art that they have collected with the public.  As Maura Judkis from the Washington Post says, “Though museum exhibitions drive the market for art collectors, the art likely would be off-limits to the 99 percent because it would be displayed exclusively in the homes of the 1 percent.” Judkis has a point – if it weren’t for museums, none of the artwork we have access to today would be on display.

I do believe that museums should be held accountable by the communities in which they exist, but I do not think that Occupy Museums is the answer. Who knows, maybe full-on protest will bring the results that these people are looking for.  But considering the more conservative nature of museums in general, my money’s not on these protestors.


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