At Carnegie Museum of Art, our fiscal year ends on December 31, so New Year’s, traditionally a time for taking stock and planning for the future, is particularly intense for us. Our work on the 2012 budget, ongoing for months, is almost done; we are writing self-evaluations; and many of us are assessing the contributions of our colleagues. This year, two strategic planning processes are amplifying these activities, one at CMA and the other at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which involves our staff and board and those of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Carnegie Science Center. The timing and structure of CMP’s plan will impact CMA’s.
The best of thinking on strategic planning—or at least the concepts that appeal to me—allows room both for planning and for “opportunism,” the ability to respond quickly to unforeseen opportunities and environmental shifts. Ideally, strategic thinking is the province of everyone employed at an institution. The notion of conversation—a constant back and forth, a continual sharing of ideas and information—becomes a metaphor for the entire process. Experimentation becomes woven into the fiber of the organization. In an institution in which everyone is potentially a strategic thinker, staff members see their jobs not as bounded by particular responsibilities but in terms of their contribution to a greater whole.
Working at all levels of the museum, the planning process should help us to define our goals clearly. At CMA, our core mission is to expose the public to visual art in its many forms. Even in today’s increasingly virtual world, museums remain (largely) repositories of physical objects, with workers at all levels trained to preserve, exhibit, and interpret those objects. After decades of challenges to the notion of quality as an eternal attribute, museums still preserve what each generation thinks of as the most significant art. I accept that standards for aesthetics and style shift over time, but do not believe that negates the notion of quality, and I am fully convinced of art’s profound ability to give meaning to life. We cannot deny our history nor should we. The question at the core of our strategic planning process—almost a cliché at this point—is then how to bridge the gap between the traditions of the past and the dynamism of a present that is addicted to movement and change?
What will the art museum of the 21st century look like? There will be more digital technology, for sure, but how will we integrate and use it? What role will it play inside the museum’s galleries and online? What kinds of works will artists make and what skills will we need to present, preserve, and interpret them? And are we correctly staffed and organized now to confront the challenges of the future? In about nine months we should have some answers—or at least educated guesses. I’ll let you know what they are.
Thanks for being with us in 2011, and have a very happy New Year!
Until next month,