Culture Magazine

Rogue's Gallery Revisited

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Back in 2009 Michael Gross published a history of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The title tells it all, Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum – see my review. The current president of the Met, Thomas P. Campell, has resigned, effective this June, and the New York Times has a story about the palace intrigue involved. It seems that Campbell had a relationship with someone in the digital media department and that made it difficult for a newly hired directer of digital media, Erin Coburn, to function effectively, forcing her to resign. The relationship between that matter the the Met's budget problems is unclear; rather, that seems to be offered simply as an example of mismanagement at the executive and board levels:
Despite its vaunted collection, prodigious $332 million budget and a board stocked with some of the country’s most powerful donors, the Met is largely run by a dozen or so executives and trustees, interviews show, with little transparency or accountability.
The recent discovery of a looming $40 million deficit that forced the institution to cut staff, trim its exhibition schedule and postpone a heralded $600 million expansion are signs that the system is showing cracks. Now, details about how dysfunction in the digital media department was allowed to continue are revealing additional consequences of the Met’s turning a blind eye to problems.
Ms. Coburn filed a formal complaint in 2012. Met executives investigated her claims but concluded they didn’t warrant action. The board’s chairman, Daniel Brodsky, and several museum executives negotiated Ms. Coburn’s departure and settlement while Mr. Campbell stayed on.
Yet, for many then at the Met, the results of Mr. Campbell’s relationship with a member of Ms. Coburn’s staff were plain. The employee had a direct line to Mr. Campbell and amassed power well beyond her rank, they say, sidelining certain colleagues as well as commanding resources and hiring outside staff members for her projects, which added costs and created infrastructure complications.
And so it goes.
As for the Board of Directors:
As boards go, the Met’s is high end and old school. An international jewel of the art world, the museum sits atop the hierarchy of major New York cultural institutions and a spot on its board has long been considered the pinnacle of prestige.
At 101 members, the board is also unusually large, which means decisions tend to be made in committees, the most important of which are the executive and finance committees. Expectations for most everyone else are relatively simple: deep pockets, attendance at five meetings a year and a willingness to let the Met’s top executives handle the details.
“If you’re not on the executive committee, you don’t know anything,” said a trustee, who insisted on anonymity because board members have been warned against speaking publicly. “You’re expected to work and give, but not to question what goes on.”
Another trustee said, “Few people have spoken up in a meeting for about 40 years.”
In other words, the Met seems to be run by a small in-group mostly for their own mutual grooming and glory and incidentally for the public good.

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