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America Must Not Lose Its Cultural Institutions

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

It was hard to digest the startling news last week that almost 60% of cultural and entertainment institutions in New York City have closed since the beginning of the pandemic last March, many of them never to reopen (estimates are at least 30% will not). These closures translate into 50,000 jobs lost in the New York entertainment and hospitality sector.

To illustrate the extent of the crisis, The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomed almost 7.5mm visitors during its fiscal year 2018 ending June 30, 2019. At the moment, its website states: “Entry to the Museum is by timed ticket or reservation only and capacity is limited.” No doubt that only a fraction of global citizens are able to appreciate the Met's breath-taking collection. Apparently, finances are so questionable that The Met is even considering selling off art from its permanent collection to fund ongoing operations, the contemplation of which has generated pockets of scorn and disbelief in the art industry.

Throughout my life, I have resided in Dallas, Austin, New York, London, Philadelphia and then back to Austin, and I am extremely grateful for the quality of culture to which I was exposed. In New York in my 20s, I was a junior member at the Frick, Whitney and Museum of Modern Art. While living in London, I worked steps away from the National Gallery and would go visit this venerable institution in Trafalgar Square (enjoying free admission like all patrons!) during my lunch breaks. I have found that devoting at least an hour a week to whatever form of art you enjoy (performance, visual, graphic, film, etc) can have significant benefits to one’s mental and physical wellness.

To fill the COVID void, I am heartened that many organizations are hosting regular, curated Zoom sessions highlighting pieces from their permanent collections. Yale University Art Gallery has just launched a weekly month-long webinar series in March on Pablo Picasso that will certainly be a must see. You can check it out here:

The need for cultural institutions to keep with the current times is not only an American issue. The Netherlands, which has been in a strict lockdown including a nightly curfew, is dealing with similar trends. The Dutch have always been leaders in innovation throughout their proud history, which PBS recently highlighted (link below). At the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, a farming city in southern Holland, you can schedule a private robot-enhanced visit where you and the curator are touring the collection, and you drive the robot from home!

If we lose access to culture and the performing arts, we are at risk of losing a part of our cultural history and having our agenda potentially set for us by modern society instead of by our own volition. Only through experiencing our cultural past can we expect not only to fully appreciate the current moment, but also to create a better future for us all.

“Hold on to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.”

  • James Joyce, Ulysses

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Instagram: austinfromaustin1

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