Dallas is a city filled with philanthropy. From restaurant tycoon Phil Romano’s Hunger Busters’ goal to feed hungry Dallas youths to the Perot Museum’s efforts in educating children in the sciences, no aspect of Dallas life is untouched by private donations from wealthy individuals.
Art is no exception to this rule. Without donors like the McDermotts, the Meadows, and the Nashers, many museums in Dallas would hardly be as world-class as they are today, and some wouldn’t even exist. These donors play a crucial role in providing museums with masterpieces and major renovations, but it is the financial support of the public that demonstrates the vital community commitment to art that creates a good museum. It is the combination of these two forces that makes a museum great.
Public support makes a museum great for two main reasons. First, it increases the incentive to make museums free to all. Second, it forces museums to take an interest in a wide variety of art instead of focusing on a specific time period or medium.
In terms of admission, Dallas is a poster child for the issue. The Dallas Museum of Art, partially funded by the city of Dallas, declared free general admission for all in January 2013. By contrast, the Nasher Sculpture Center, which relies heavily on private donations, charges $10 per visit to the public. Admission, though not a $10 million donation from an oil tycoon, is a form of private patronage because the individuals who choose to attend the museum are the ones who pay for its maintenance rather than the public at large.
While ten bucks might not buy much else, museum visits are a luxury form of entertainment, and in these turbulent economic times, a frivolous expense that one can easily do without. During rough economic times, a museum with public funding can still afford to keep the lights on without relying on individuals to give up what little spare cash they might have.
Just as importantly, the individuals visiting a museum with free general admission can continue to experience high-quality art in spite of hard economic times, globally or individually. Free general admission also opens the world of art to individuals in lower socioeconomic classes who might not otherwise have the opportunity to view world class works.
The Dallas Museum of Art, for example, started offering free admission in January of 2013. According to a Dallas Morning News article from December of the same year, the museum’s patrons consisted of many more people who had never been to the gallery or who hadn’t been in over 10 years within just one year of the abolishment of admission fees.
Similarly to how free admission bolstered by public funding pushes museums to serve all types of people, public funding also pushes museums to display art relevant to all types of people. Beyond variations in individual taste, funding by a broader audience means displaying art by a wide range of people. The city of Dallas (as well as most urban areas) is racially and ethnically diverse, so the international collection of the Dallas Museum of Art is highly appropriate. If the philanthropic tycoons of the city were the only ones whose ethnicities and backgrounds were represented in the museum’s art, whole galleries would be filled with art by old, white, males (or sometimes their widows).
While the financial commitment of the public is vital in creating a stable, diverse museum that fully serves its community, great museums necessitate some form of private donation.
Private funding takes many forms. Whether it’s an annual membership fee, a corporate sponsorship, or an individual gifting the museum a Monet, the monetary contributions of singular people make a huge difference in the museum world. In addition, most cities don’t have the budgets to match the support given to the arts by individuals.
For example, the budget for the entire city of Dallas for the Fiscal Year 2014-2015 was just under $3 billion, according to the city’s Annual Budget Report, with a paltry $416,429 dedicated to “Public Art for Dallas.” Meanwhile, in the year 1989 alone, just one individual donated $20 million to the Dallas Museum of Art.
Despite this disparity, the Dallas Museum of Art represents an excellent partnership between public and private patronage. The museum partially supports free admission by offering “partnerships” (the equivalent of most museum memberships) starting at a slightly higher price than most comparable museums; their entry level partnership costs $100 per year, compared to $80 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and $60 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.
But in 2013, the same year the museum began offering free general admission, the Dallas Museum of Art received a $9 million grant in order to maintain this admission scheme, according to The Dallas Morning News. Without the philanthropic lifeblood of the upper-class Dallas community, the city’s art museum would be a completely different place.
It is this partnership between public investment and private patronage that makes the Dallas Museum of Art a role model for museums around the country. The museum has achieved an excellent sense of give and take with the community (just try to find parking around Klyde Warren Park on a Friday night!) in addition to building vital partnerships with Dallas benefactors, resulting in a picture perfect art establishment for all.