Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our Business Model is Badly Broken

Graham Beal gave a speech at the volunteer program today, for which I was pleased to be present. I had been hearing a lot of things, second hand, and was interested in his thoughts.

He spoke primarily (and apologetically—this is supposed to be a celebratory occasion, after all) about the DIA’s financial situation and stated that “our business model is badly broken”.

For many years, 16 million of our 22 million dollar budget came from the State of Michigan. Last year, $10,000 of our now 32 million dollar budget came from the State of Michigan.

Mr. Beal expressed that what the DIA would really like is stability and believes this can be achieved by setting up an unrestricted endowment. The endowment the DIA is currently working with has something in the ballpark of $70 million. At around 3% interest, that would generate about 2.1 million per year (remember-- the budget is 32 million).

To establish this endowment, what the DIA intends to do is launch a millage campaign, proposing a 10 year property tax, which would then be used to build the endowment—ensuring the DIA some long term financial stability.

A poll was conducted in the community and the response was overwhelmingly positive. A similar campaign for the Detroit Zoo was launched a few years ago, and was accompanied by billboards that tugged at the heartstrings in all the right ways. The Zoo millage passed with incredibly high numbers.

Who Doesn’t Love Giraffes?

It was a concern that the DIA millage would not be as successful because art museums and zoos are perceived so differently by the public.  Zoos have very family-friendly amenities like sno-cones and stroller parking. Art museums are not always perceived as being a place for families to spend a Saturday afternoon. Thus, there was concern that the DIA would not receive the same support from its surrounding communities. However, the polling company was stunned by the data they collected, which showed great support.

Interestingly, the original millage proposal had multiple cultural institutions on the ticket. However, the polls showed that people did NOT show the same support for the shared millage. Thus, the DIA dropped the other institutions, in favor of going it alone because it could so drastically increase their odds of winning.

And nobody minds.

Graham Beal expected the other institutions to be a little miffed when he announced that the DIA would be the only institution on the ticket (and thus the only one benefiting from this property tax). Yet, he claimed that his colleagues handled this news graciously. I found this incredibly hard to believe until he explained why.

Mr. Beal reported his colleague at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as saying, “A strong DIA helps every cultural institution in the city”.

Wow. That is gracious.

But the gentleman at the symphony has a good point and another colleague is reported as noting that if the millage passes, “that will be a major institution that is no longer asking for money, and that helps everyone”.

These are both excellent points. If the DIA can be self-sufficient, then it will be sucking significantly less money from donors around the city, who will then be able to donate to The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Detroit Historical Museum, The Science Center, and every other cultural institution in Detroit.  Sounds good to me.

"Artie" The Donkey

Also, I think I should be featured on a billboard, feeding something to Artie and giggling. Millage accomplished.

The 48th Annual Volunteer Council Meeting

Held in the Detroit Film Theatre Auditorium, The Annual Volunteer Council Meeting was quite a production. I would really like to be involved with volunteer management sometime in a future career, and with volunteer management comes volunteer recognition. So I was interested in seeing what the DIA does to recognize the efforts of their many volunteers.

The DIA Volunteer Council is comprised of 6 individual committees, with a total of 697 volunteers. These volunteers put in 63,000 hours this year, which is equivalent to 30 full time employees.

Think about where you work or go to school. Pick 30 people that are around you and make them disappear. While I’m sure some of us wouldn’t mind making a few choice individuals disappear, the overall result would be devastating. With the cuts that the DIA has taken over the last several years, having 30 people work for free (actually, they pay a fee to volunteer) for 63,000 hours is invaluable.

Each volunteer is given 4 free guest passes to the DIA. If every pass is used, that will bring 2,500 visitors to the museum. That's a heck of a lot.  In my Volunteer Management class last fall, we identified volunteers as being one of the biggest sources of publicity for their insitution and it appears as if the DIA has recognized their potential as well.

During the various speeches, there was much emphasis placed on being “ambassadors” to the DIA. Today’s speakers and presenters spoke of representing the museum with pride and talking about it with anyone who will listen. It reminded me a lot of being a tour guide…er… “campus ambassador” at CMU.  And I find it interesting that in the half dozen staff meetings I have attended, no one mentioned this to the employees.  Could it be that the museum volunteers are under more pressure to positively represent the DIA than the actual paid staff are?  I wonder if this is simply because volunteers are often the ones interfacing with the public.


Director Graham Beal also spoke and discussed the state of the museum this year, but I will go into more detail about that later. However, I thought it was great that the director was at this event. His presence underlined the importance of the DIA’s volunteers.

Like many museums, pins are given out to recognize those who have dedicated years of service to the DIA. I counted how many people received each pin. (Why? Because I care about stuff like this, that’s why.)

15 years: 15 
20 years: 6
25 years: 2
30 years: 5
35 years: 1

Honestly, I expected more 35 year pins to be handed out. I have spoken with so many volunteers who have told me their stories of first coming to volunteer at the DIA in the 60’s, I expected them all to be lined up to receive their pins. But then, I guess lots of them have been here more than 35 years, and already have their pins.

Today is day 12 for me (I’m technically a volunteer), so I’m .002% of the way to my 15 year pin!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dedicated by the People of Detroit to the Knowledge and Enjoyment of Art

I have lived all but one year of my life in Michigan. That's 23 Michigan winters. But you know what? I'm still freezing. I don't know if I have poor circulation or an iron deficiency or something... but I don't handle cold temperatures very well. As I mentioned, the ODHR office is kept at near arctic temperatures. Maybe they're trying to keep Jimmy Hoffa fresh in one of those suspiciously unused cubicles-- I can't say for sure.

I just know that the weather is finally warming up outside, so I have an escape (and can stop running to the bathroom to run my hands under hot water).  So this afternoon, I took a little stroll outside  to warm up and walked around the entire exterior of the DIA. It's more impressive than I had remembered.

The museum underwent a massive reorganization, renovation, and expansion several years ago. I talked previously about the changes to the interior-- new text panels, smaller gallery rooms, new interpretive techniques, etc.-- but there were some major changes to the exterior of the museum as well.

For those who may not be familiar with the great City of Detroit, the Detroit Institute of Arts is located in what we refer to as the "Cultural Center" of Detroit. This area is home to other great Detroit treasures such as...
The Detroit Public Library

Wayne State University

The Detroit Science Center

The Scarab Club
My dad took me inside the Scarab Club once, when I was younger. It functions partly as an artist collective of sorts, and also as a community arts center. It's a crazy little historic building, and I remember being granted access to one of the top floors when we visited-- which is generally closed to the public. Upstairs are a number of artist studios, and I recall meeting one of the artists and discussing his work briefly. It was pretty neat.


It is easy to see where the "new" and "old" DIA meet each other. I recall there being some rumblings in the community about the look of the expansion. It does look much sleeker and more modern and is a definite departure from the traditional temple-style of the "old" DIA

Old and New DIA converge

One of my favorite things about this building (and I think most Detroiters would agree) is the Woodward entrance. Woodward is a major street in Detroit, and while much of the city has declined, Woodward Avenue remains both active and reminiscent of Old Detroit. Fittingly, this part of the DIA is about as reminiscent as it gets. In one of my classes last semester, we discussed the museum as being a "temple" for art (or history, or what-have-you) and that many museums were actually elevated off the street by impressive marble staircases and other heavily classic architectural features. The movement now is toward a more welcoming structure that is less separated (physically and metaphorically) from is surroundings. That's what is so interesting about the DIA-- you can actually see this shift taking place in its very architecture.

Classic Woodward Entrance

What is unfortunate these days is that Woodward is no longer a functioning museum entrance, and it's a damn shame. I think there is something transformative about walking up a flight of marble stairs, between two shooting fountains, and past "The Thinker" that prepares the visitor for a meaningful museum experience. What you can't see in the photo is that it's been gated shut.

Entrances to the DIA are now on the sides of the building, and feature a more contemporary and low-key style. Does this make for a more positive and less intimidating visitor experience? I don't know.  Museums never intimidated me, so I can't even begin to answer that.

Contemporary Farnsworth Entrance

I'm pretty neutral about the new style of the expansion. I liked the old DIA, but I like the new one, too. I think the white marble is sleek and solid looking in its simplicity. But there will always be a place in my heart for the ornate design of classic museums.