Can a Christie's-Funded Creative Think Tank Transform the Way Museums Do Business?

Can a Christie's-Funded Creative Think Tank Transform the Way Museums Do Business?
Laurie Winters, founder of Arts Consortium

Can neuroscientists kickstart interest in museums? The art world is about to find out.

The Arts Consortium — a new think tank for museum professionals funded by Christie’s and started by former Milwaukee Art Museum director of exhibitions Laurie Winters — plans to bring neuroscientists, behavioral economists, tech specialists, and art critics to Vienna in October to meet with a group of museum administrators. Think TED Talks for cultural institutions.

“We want to bring in people from outside fields. That’s the only way to introduce new thinking into an organization,” said Winters, an alumna of both the Center for Curatorial Leadership and the Getty Leadership Program. “I don’t [just] want the membership talking to the membership,” she added.

According to Winters, there are four areas that will be addressed at the first meeting: alternative ways of financing museums, attendees’ short attention spans, new ways to use technology, and art critics.

Art critics? “They have very strong opinions,” she told ARTINFO, but rarely are they brought into a practical conversation about how museums are run. She wants to change that.

Then there are the neuroscientists, who will be asked to help museums find ways to rethink their approach to exhibitions considering the rapidly decreasing average attention span of its audience. Contemporary life is speeding up the way our brains process information, which could have an effect on the way that museums consider programming. 

“How can you encourage or enhance an aesthetic experience when the way people are thinking is different than it was 20 years ago?” asked Winters.

In the same vein, the Consortium seeks answers to the equally impossible question of how to fund small- and mid-sized museums in an age of tightening belts and lagging attendance. To that effect, the organization is turning to behavioral economists, who may help smaller institutions “nudge museum goers to slow down or come back several times.”

But the consortium might not even need an economist to help change thinking about museum finances, as its executive director is one of those rare art-world people who has no problem talking about the business of culture. When asked about funding from Christie’s auction house, she was quick to break down barriers between museums and commercial arts institutions.

“To call them [museums] a nonprofit is a sort of artificial distinction,” she said, noting that museums function like businesses in most respects. “In fact, I would raise the question does that even make any sense anymore to talk about it in those terms?”