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The co-founders of online exhibition matching company Vastari, Managing Director Bernardine Bröcker Wieder (left) and COO Francesca Polo

Special exhibits are the bread and butter of the museum world, but the finances behind them remain largely opaque. A new study from UK-based matchmaking start-up Vastari, which connects museums with private collectors and producers of trade shows, aims to bring more transparency to this secret market, the director said. General Manager, Bernardine Bröcker Wieder.

The Exhibition Funding Report: Market Size Analysis is based on online and telephone surveys of around 500 museums on Vastari’s database between August 2017 and July 2018: 62% art institutions and 38 % science, mainly from Europe (50%) and North America (41%). Data aggregation and analysis was led by Lindsay Dewar of London-based art market research firm ArtTactic, who previously contributed to the Hiscox Online Art Trade report and the Tefaf Art Dealer Finance Report.

Asking about museums’ preferences for hosting and touring shows and their exhibition budgets, the survey grew out of Vastari’s usual customer service process, explains Bröcker Wieder. “Museums are constantly approached by producers of exhibitions whose content is irrelevant. We started asking these questions so as not to disturb them. Then we realized that this was the knowledge the market needed. A first version of the Exhibition Finance Report was published last October at the same time as the Vastari Global Report, which focused on the logistics of museum exhibitions.

The new research, on which Vastari collaborated with “one of the big four” consulting firms, calculates the annual cost of temporary exhibitions worldwide at $ 5.9 billion, encompassing around 140,000 exhibitions, seven per year in some 20,000 museums accredited by ICOM (International Council of Museums). For comparison, the latest Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report put the global art market in 2018 at $ 67.4 billion.

Despite the multi-billion dollar valuation, the report’s most surprising finding was that “a huge proportion of arts institutions work on a micro-budget” for exhibitions, according to Bröcker Wieder, with 39% citing less than $ 10,000. per exposure on average. Only 7% landed in the ‘high budget’ category over $ 100,000, compared to 23% of science museums, although art exhibits tend to involve more valuable items and greater logistical complications. . The reasons for this disparity are a matter of speculation, says Bröcker Wieder, adding that declining public investment in the arts may play a role.

Overall, Vastari calculates the average budget for a museum to host a three-month exhibition at a “sobering” price of $ 58,000 (split between $ 44,750 for art and $ 80,000 for science) – “Much lower than the industry would expect people to spend”. Yet smaller institutions – defined as occupying 4,100 square feet to 9,750 square feet – also reported the largest range between their average and maximum budgets, suggesting a willingness to “stretch their budgets in order to get the right show.” , explains Bröcker Wieder. “They have to be competing for the audience and are probably also very addicted to fundraising.”

Participating museums were not asked to provide figures for marketing, shipping and insurance, she said, as the study aimed to determine the cost of exhibit content, such as loan fees. and partnership agreements. The company’s focused approach and the anonymity of the final report encouraged institutions to share financial information that would normally be confidential, she believes.

Many museums were less open to the idea of ​​partnering with producers of trade shows. About half of the medium and high budget European museums surveyed – and more than 40% of fine art exhibition venues – said they collaborate exclusively with other nonprofit institutions on traveling exhibitions. Overall, concludes Vastari, the sector remains “traditionally non-commercial”. Profit generation ranks particularly below institutional exposure and audience expansion among the motivations provided by museums for organizing exhibitions.

Bröcker Wieder concedes that “the marketing of [exhibition] content risks reducing intellectual importance, ”but argues that art museums could“ think more strategically about cost-effective routes to content ”, drawing on the more collaborative approach of scientific institutions. “They share a lot of exhibits, which frees up resources to focus on educational elements as they spend less time securing content.”

Online access to the study is free for participating museums, but otherwise the price is £ 3,780 (€ 4,320 or $ 4,860) for one year, or £ 350 (€ 400 or $ 450) per year. month. The data has enabled Vastari to better tailor its twinning, explains Bröcker Wieder, for example by identifying on its online platform which museums are ready to host traveling exhibitions.

The firm is currently translating its survey into Mandarin and Arabic with a view to compiling other reports on museums in Asia and the Middle East. “The aim is to raise awareness of the differences between the markets,” explains Bröcker Wieder.

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