Critique: Art museums need revamping | Opinion


The question “Is there an art gallery at the Memorial Student Center?” was mumbled many times, and with great confusion. As soon as you enter the MSC through the Integrity Entrance, the J. Wayne Stark Galleries are to the right and upstairs, with large glass doors and free entry. Yet it is a secret kept in plain sight. Have people chosen not to pay attention to the art next door, or has art become so obsolete these days that it is no longer an attraction, but a placeholder?

An argument is then offered: What do art galleries have that people are not interested in, and its inverse, what do they not have? Could the blame be placed on the public for neglecting culture, or perhaps on the galleries and museums for failing to meet the needs of the public? The only thing certain is that the lack of attendance is not only significant, but imminent.

A 2018 study by The Baltimore Sun shows that the decline began before the pandemic, primarily in the Baltimore area, but also across the country. The study found an 18.6% decline in attendance over a 15-year period despite the nation’s growing population and an increase in the number of museums offering free admission.

It may be time for museums to change. However, museums will not change if people do not fund them. People won’t fund them if they don’t visit. People won’t visit because the museums won’t change. This cycle could be avoided if our society were less judgmental about the type of art we should consume, if we no longer believed that some forms of art are inherently better than others. When this is the case, we begin to avoid galleries and museums that don’t present what we expect, locking up potential not only in museums, but also in ourselves.

That’s not to say that the entire burden falls on the public – museums should also be prepared to change. Some museum directors and board members are more concerned with charity brunches and fundraising galas than the connection between local art and community. These galleries and museums should not only provide cultural richness, but a source of inspiration for emerging artists, young and old, through support and publicity.

Museums could hold contests for freelance artists and even elementary to high school students, with the prize being money or supplies. College art students could present their portfolios to get the boost needed for their early career, also including photographers. All of this will support creators, bring more original artwork, and make audiences feel more connected.

Even through a fraction of the given representation – and its concomitant decline in attendance – galleries and museums across the country provide the history, sentiment and identity of their communities. With all of this in mind, visit a local or city museum and show your appreciation for the historic art they preserve and the contemporary art they put on a platform. Art is but a relief carved into the aging rock of humanity, impossible to do, see and appreciate without pausing.

Ruben Hernandez is a junior journalist and art critic for The Battalion.


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