June 14, 2010; Source: New York Times | It would be hard to imagine what more the Brooklyn (New York) Museum could do to make it a more appealing “destination” spot for visitors, short of sending cars and buses to pick people up at their homes. So far efforts to triple attendance—a plan started six years ago—are not working at all.
Even though other of New York’s cultural institutions have enjoyed stable attendance, the Brooklyn Museum’s numbers actually dropped in 2009 from the year before, and as the New York Times reports, was “just a smidgen above the 326,000 visitors who came to the museum in 2004.” Among the things that haven’t apparently helped increase the numbers, as the museum had hoped, are mounting exhibitions on topics like the “Star Wars” movies and hip-hop music. The museum also has a First Saturdays program, that offers free nights, along with music, dancing, food, cash bar, gallery talks and films.
Heads of other museums—and even one former trustee—argue that the Brooklyn’s efforts to popularize itself are also diminishing its stature as a quality cultural institution, in addition to failing to draw crowds. A recently launched partnership with the cable television channel, Bravo, centered on a reality television show called “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” led to one trustee’s departure. Martin Baumrind resigned this month after serving on the board for 10 years. “What it has become is a party place and a center of celebrity—evidenced by the fact that they have partnered up with Bravo,” he said. “That is not what I signed up for.”
Still the museum’s director, Arnold Lehman, has his supporters. New York’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Kate D. Levin, said, “Arnold doesn’t get enough credit for being a real pioneer in audience development.” Lehman himself is not giving up and he’s hopeful that the First Saturdays will lead to increased crowds at the museum this year.—Bruce Trachtenberg