Museology

Like so many things, it all began in Rome.

Of course, also like so many other things, the concept of public museums as originated in Rome during the Renaissance was more borrowed than conceptualized. Sure, the Capitoline Museums might technically have become the first museum targeting the masses in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated an impressive collection of sculpture to the people of Rome. But Babylonians might take umbrage with that claim since Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum was categorizing and showing Mesopotamian artifacts to prominent persons as far back as 530 BCE in a state in modern day Iraq.

Still, Rome introduced the “public” concept and it grew from there.

Next came the Vatican Museum, which traces its origins to the public displayed sculptural collection begun in 1506 by Pope Julius II. In many cases for years and centuries to follow, the admitted “public” tended to be rather limited. Even around 1800, there was a long and complicated process to gain admission to the British Museum. Some even credit the Ashmolean museum, set up in 1677 at the University of Oxford, to be the first “public” museum because its mission was specifically to be open to the entirety of the public.

Today, museums are engrained in our culture, as both important historic and cultural repositories and learning institutions. Oklahoma has more than its share of excellent museums, and Oklahoma Magazine checks in with them for a look behind the scenes at how they continue to pursue their time-honored vital public service.  

Stable Footing

Museums employ innovation to thrive in trying times.

For years now, individuals and governments across the state have tightened their belts in response to the global recession. As a result, the state of Oklahoma has cut arts and culture funding, and simultaneously, many Oklahomans have had to cut back on charitable giving. In this environment of frugality, several Oklahoma museums have not only found firm financial footing, but they have found new ways to flourish during the downturn.

Growth, Collaboration And Inclusivity

Within a year of Philbrook Museum of Art executive director Rand Suffolk’s hiring, the economy changed from stumbling-yet-stable to one foot in the grave. However, in the five years since Suffolk was hired, Philbrook has not only weathered the storm, but has also thrived.

“During the downturn, we’ve actually seen our attendance increase about 50 percent and membership increase about 20 percent,” Suffolk says. Much of that is thanks to the museum “embracing a culture of growth, collaboration and inclusivity.”

When Suffolk came to Philbrook, he decided the museum should focus more on what it does and how it can interact with the community.

“We looked at existing programs and turned our attention to invention,” Suffolk says.

Two successful new programs from the museum are Free Second Saturdays and the MyMuseum children’s program. Both programs have helped the museum welcome thousands of new visitors, Suffolk says.

Suffolk and the Philbrook staff also looked at new ways to use the famous museum gardens. Philbrook has partnered with local yoga and pilates studios to offer classes in the gardens and created new wedding packages for the general public that were previously exclusive to members.

A deeper connection with members and the community as a whole meant a steady increase in attendance from 98,862 total visitors in 2007 to 148,452 total visitors for 2011. With only 1.5 percent of the museum’s budget coming from public funds, Philbrook seems equipped with the tools to weather any economic storm.

Philbrook isn’t the only museum witnessing innovation pay off in a rough economic environment. At Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the June 2011- June 2012 visitor total is more than 40 percent higher than the same period in 2009-2010. Frank Merrick, the museum’s chairman, credits both Oklahoma City’s weathering of the fiscal storm and internal changes.

“We have made a very strong investment in our staff, strengthened development and added new activities to bring visitors to the museum,” Merrick says.

Initiatives to bring in various groups to expose and re-expose children and younger adults to museums, rooftop cocktail mixers and expansion of both programs and their marketing – youth, film and facilities rental, among others – have been keys to success.

“We’re trying to be a whole lot more than a place to go to see art,” Merrick says.

Innovation in terms of administrative structure and funding has been the key to another significant Oklahoma museum.

A Successful Partnership

In 2008, the renowned Gilcrease Museum and the University of Tulsa entered into a public-private partnership where the university would manage the museum on a day-to-day basis, while the city would still own the museum and its collection and would also provide financial support. This partnership has helped the City of Tulsa keep costs low and has also proven that even in tough times, Oklahomans are a giving bunch.

“Since the partnership was announced, the philanthropic community in Tulsa has contributed more than $46 million in capital improvements,” says Dr. Duane King, director of the museum and TU’s vice president for museum affairs. “Because of that, our annual operating budget increased by $2 million a year at a time when a lot of museums were experiencing layoffs and decreased programs and services. We were able to increase services and programs.”

Before the partnership, the City of Tulsa provided half of the museum’s budget; today only one-third of the museum’s budget comes from city funds. This budget change hasn’t been due to a decrease in city funds but by the increase in fundraising.

“It’s safe to say 80 percent of our funding apart from the city would be from philanthropies, individuals, businesses, corporate entities and funding agencies,” King says. “We do not take any direct funding from the university.”

As a result of this partnership, the museum has opened the Zarrow Center, a new space for arts exhibitions and education in Tulsa’s Brady District.

The Road Ahead

Around the country, arts and culture organizations frequently argue that their vital public purposes are deterred by financial woes.

But in Oklahoma, it seems, engaging and enlightening the community seems to be the recipe for success in today’s economic climate. – Morgan Browne

Behind The Scenes

Successful exhibits often require teamwork, sharing.

People visit art museums to appreciate not only the works of art, but also to get lost in the works, the colors and ambiance of the exhibits. Yet most art lovers may not realize the time, extensive planning and cooperation that goes into putting on a successful and unique exhibit.

Many exhibitions take six to nine months to plan, and some even up to two years to research and begin the “loan” process of borrowing artwork from other museums, institutions, private collectors or lenders.

Alison Amick, Curator of Collections at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, says the loan process can be complicated. “It depends entirely on the nature of the exhibition,” Amick says.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s current exhibition, FUSION: A New Century of Glass, was organized by the OKCMOA over the course of two years.

“We spent a lot of time looking at a lot of different artists and different art works,” Amick says. “Then came the time for us to secure loans. So, we’ve worked with galleries, we’ve worked with museums and private collectors on this particular exhibition.”

Different museums have different requirements in terms of shipping, how objects are packed, if they want to send a courier with the work and loan fees, Amick says.

“It simply depends on whom you’re working with,” she says. “That’s how it goes each time.”

Prior to lending artwork, lenders will also check out the facility that’s requesting it. “There’s a standard document called a Museum Facility Report that you can send to your lenders that they can review, because no one would want to lend to a place that they didn’t feel comfortable lending to. That’s a standard procedure in terms of loan requests and working with individuals on loans,” Amick says.

She adds that curators factor in the loan process when planning an exhibit, and they also know that if their loan requests keep getting rejected for a particular exhibit that they have to realize that the exhibit either won’t be feasible or will take on a different character than originally planned.

Catherine Whitney, Philbrook Museum of Art chief curator, says exhibitions at Philbrook rely on art from the museum’s own collections as well as from outside works and collections.

“The focus of an exhibition really determines if we draw from private individuals or other institutions or other museums,” Whitney says.

Philbrook is presenting a show in November focusing on modern art in America, specifically the works of Max Weber, and had to contact private collectors around the country to see who would be willing to loan pieces.

“A majority of the exhibition will be from other institutions and other museums that will be lending one or two pieces that we’ve requested to go on view here at Philbrook,” Whitney says. “This is going to be a pretty exciting exhibition for us because we’re borrowing from major institutions from around the country.”

Philbrook is borrowing from art museums including the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“It’s going to be really exciting to have such major pieces here on view at Philbrook in Tulsa for three months,” Whitney says.

That excitement, as is often the case with popular exhibits, has been fueled by cooperation within the art community. – Christina Good Voice

Museums, By The Numbers

7.22 – in dollars and cents, the median cost of a museum visit in the U.S.
31.40 – in dollars and cents, the median cost museums incur serving each visitor.
1773 – year that the Charleston Museum was established as first museum in the U.S., although it wasn’t open to the public until 1824.
1793 – year that the Louvre Museum in Paris opened.
17,500 – approximate number of museums in the U.S.
357,000-plus – estimated median attendance for science/tech museums, the most popular type in the U.S.
140 million – approximate number of people who attend major league baseball, football, basketball and hockey games, combined.
850 million – approximate number of annual visitors to all U.S. museums.

Watchful Eyes

Museum security staffs protect Oklahoma’s treasures.

There are few experiences that families can share that compare to exploring the treasures on display at Oklahoma’s museums. Whether it be a young child’s first glimpse at timeless works of art or the thousandth visit by that child’s grandparent who views the pieces as old friends with new stories to tell each visit, a trip to the museum can not only transport one to another time and place, it can also reveal secrets about that time and place, and about the artists who created the wonders.

But what we might not consider, and what often the museum staffs would rather we didn’t consider, is the amount of effort that goes into the protection of the treasures and works of art we enjoy on these trips. As recent incidents involving vandalism and thefts at museums around the world indicate, not everyone shares an appreciation for the exhibits that are housed behind museum walls. These are the types of incidents that highlight the need for world-class security teams to keep a watchful eye over the art and artifacts at Oklahoma’s museums.

“You have to be vigilant,” Steve Ramsay, chief of security at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa explains. “We’re the same as a bank, only our money is hanging on the walls.”

Ramsay describes the role of the security team at the Philbrook as not only protectors, but also ambassadors to the patrons who visit the museum. 

“People who want to be here, and pay the fee to be here, are generally going to be very respectful of the exhibits,” Ramsay says. “We’re really all about the visitor experience. We try to answer whatever questions the visitors ask. But mostly we’re here to protect the artwork, and the patrons. Just being seen can be a great deterrent.” 

Jack Madden, facilities manager at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, says that communication and teamwork between security and visitor services personnel is key. “Visitor services is very much part of security, knowing what’s going on and keeping an eye on things.”

According to Ramsay, the most common security calls usually involve a minor illness or perhaps a child that has wandered a little too far off. But there is always the potential for greater threats when dealing with highly valued works of art, such as the spray paint vandalism of a Picasso painting this past June in a Houston museum.

“Vandalism is something we’re always worried about,” James Palmer, captain of security at the Gilcrease Museum says. “We have a few different layers of security, starting with the Gillies, who are our eyes and ears on the floor. Then we have a uniform staff that gives that hard shell look without being overbearing.”

Aside from the Gillies, the Gilcrease volunteer staff, both Gilcrease and Philbrook boast cutting-edge alarm and surveillance systems watching over the gallery floors, as well as 24/7 in house staffs.

“We train our people to be aware of everything,” Palmer says. “We consider every piece we protect as having equal value.”

Madden says, though, that technology such as case alarms, motion detectors and infrared sensors are just tools for staff to use to remain vigilant. Furthermore, staff considers enhanced security on a case-by-case basis when it comes to an exhibit that is expected to attract controversy or negative attention.

There is a difference in the real world of illegal artifact trade when it comes to value placed on art and artifacts. But the security staffs at Oklahoma’s museums work hard to ensure that the next time a family wants to enjoy the treasures housed within their walls, each piece will be on full display. – Regan Henson

A Sampling Of Leading American Museums

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
Open for only a year, this magnificently designed and constructed museum founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart guru Sam Walton, was an immediate draw to the heartland because of its spectacular collection of American art from Colonial era to today, and agreements to bring in world-class traveling exhibits. www.crystalbridges.org

Dallas Museum Of Art, Dallas, Texas
The Dallas Museum Of Art is propelled to national prominence by both its significant 24,000-object collection and its dynamic exhibition policy and award-winning educational programs. www.dm-art.org

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Ill.
The massive Field Museum is home to more than 21 million specimens, numerous expansive permanent exhibits and such national attractions as a dinosaur collection, including “Sue,” the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton currently known. www.fieldmuseum.org

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Some museums’ reputations are built on impressive large collections, but it is Kimbell Art Museum’s relatively small collection that makes it notable, since the quality-oriented stock includes Michelangelo’s first known painting among other impressive pieces. www.kimbellart.org

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
With more than two million objects in its collection, including the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo and some 2,500 pieces of European art, it’s little wonder the Met is recognized as one of the finest museums in the country. www.metmuseum.org

Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Considered the most influential museum of modern art in the world, MoMA’s collection includes works of architecture, design, drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books, artists’ books, film and electronic media – and a massive library and archive to boot. www.moma.org

The Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art, Kansas City, Mo.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum’s neoclassical architecture and specifically the nationally acclaimed recent Bloch Building are almost as universally recognized for excellence as the museum’s extensive collection of Asian art, especially that of Imperial China. www.nelson-atkins.org

San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, San Francisco, Calif.
SFMoMA was the first museum on the West Coast solely dedicated to 20th century art, and today its 26,000 works, exhibits and impressive library of resources propel it to international acclaim. www.sfmoma.org

The Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
The nation’s museum is actually 19 museums and galleries – including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery and more – that comprise a national treasure and a unique institution in the world of museums. www.si.edu

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City
Part of The Guggenheim’s appeal is definitely the cylindrical Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, but a stellar permanent collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art in addition to special exhibitions throughout the year make it a must for museophiles. www.guggenheim.org

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
The Whitney’s focus on 20th and 21st century, its 18,000-piece-plus multi-discipline collection and its emphasis on exhibiting living artists’ work have carved out a distinct and global reputation www.whitney.org

A Sampling Of Oklahoma’s Leading Museums

Fred Jones Jr. Museum Of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman
Almost 100 years ago, OU Art School director Oscar Jacobson envisioned a permanent, vibrant art museum for the university and for Oklahoma. After several steps, that vision was realized in 1971, when Mr. and Mrs. Fred Jones of Oklahoma City donated a fine arts building to the university in memory of their son, Fred Jones, Jr., who had died in an airplane crash during his senior year at the University of Oklahoma. Subsequent numerous donations and acquisitions buoyed the impressive collection, including the opening of the Stuart Wing in 2011. Among the prized acquisitions of the museum, in 2000, was the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionism, which consists of 33 works of art by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Vuillard and others. Strong points of the 16,000-object permanent collection include French Impressionism, 20th century American painting and sculpture, traditional and contemporary Native American art, art of the Southwest, ceramics, photography, contemporary art, Asian art and graphics from the 16th century to the present. www.ou.edu/fjjma/

Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa
The acclaimed Gilcrease Museum was founded in 1949 by oilman Thomas Gilcrease, who gathered the most comprehensive collection of American Western art and a major collection of historical items and documents, which led one historian to describe Gilcrease as “a kind of Smithsonian Institution of the American West.” Today it houses more than 10,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture by some 400 artists from Colonial times to the present. A historic partnership between the City of Tulsa and The University of Tulsa in 2008 helped ensure the ongoing vibrancy of the museum and of its affiliates such as the new Zarrow Center for Art and Education in downtown Tulsa. www.gilcrease.utulsa.edu

National Cowboy And Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
One of, if not the premier institutions preserving the heritage of the Old West and the people who populated it and culture that enveloped it, the National Cowboy And Western Heritage Museum has been sharing that history and inspiring interest in it since the museum’s founding in 1955. Art and artifacts abound related to numerous aspects of the Old West – from the American Rodeo Gallery and the Native American Gallery to Prosperity Junction, a replica of a turn-of-the-century cattle town. The museum has attracted legions of the dedicated curious who are interested in the history, artifacts, lifestyle and culture of the true Old West – an integral component to U.S. culture and history. www.nationalcowboymuseum.org

Oklahoma City Museum Of Art, Oklahoma City
In 1989, two long-standing arts organizations with similar agendas merged to form the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The Museum rotates impressive and diverse museum-created and national/international traveling exhibits on its first floor. The second and third floors feature both rotating exhibits from the permanent collection and permanent displays, such as the well-known Dale Chihuly: The Collection. Although its permanent collection is vast and diverse, the American Art collection is particularly notable for pieces from Hans Hofmann, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Willson Peale. www.okcmoa.com

Philbrook Museum Of Art, Tulsa
Waite and Genevieve Phillips employed architect Edward Delk to design an elaborate Italian Renaissance villa on 23 acres in midtown Tulsa, completed in 1927. In 1938, the Phillips gifted the magnificent 72-room mansion and surrounding grounds to the City of Tulsa to be used as an art center. Subsequently, numerous prominent collectors have contributed to the core collection at Philbrook. The permanent collection encompasses European, American, Native American, Modern and Contemporary Art and Design, African, Asian and Antiquities and has maintained a national reputation for excellence. www.philbrook.org

Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, University of Oklahoma, Norman
Considered one of the finest university based museums in the country, the Sam Noble Museum dates back to 1899 and has enjoyed its new state of the art facility since 2000. Five incredible galleries and numerous exhibits covering 50,000 square feet recount the tale of four billion years of Oklahoma natural history. With more than 10 million objects and specimens in its collections (including the world’s largest Apatosaurus skeleton) and numerous ongoing research projects, it’s a critical research component to the university and a prized contributor to Oklahoma’s museum culture. www.snomnh.ou.edu

Tulsa Air and Space Museum (TASM), Tulsa
Visiting pilots such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post once stored their planes in the former Tulsa Municipal Airport’s Hangar One, so it’s little wonder that the site was chosen in 1998 to be the center of the Tulsa Air & Space Museum. Today the museum chronicles the history of aviation in Tulsa, Oklahoma and inevitably the nation, given Tulsa’s critical role in the advent of aviation. In addition to a treasure trove of documents, photos, memorabilia, records, interactive and educational exhibits, TASM houses such attractions as an F-14 Tomcat, a Bell 47K Helicopter, a Ranger 2000 and the very rare Star Cavalier. In 2006, TASM launched the adjacent James E. Bertelsmeyer Planetarium and it has delighted visitors of all ages with daily shows. www.tulsaairandspacemuseum.org