My guess is that there were a lot of raised eyebrows and drooping jaws this morning when members of the local intelligentsia opened their daily papers in Roanoke and saw Mike Allen's excellent piece on the bleak projections for The Taubman Museum of Art. The real-world shortfalls on projections made in what must have been a dream-like state are dramatic on every line of the balance sheet.
The Taubman's new director David Mickenberg signed on to a ship with a big hole in the bow and he's trying to patch it, publicly starting tonight with a meeting to discuss the future. It is a solid, noble gesture amid a sea of unrealistic hope, over-expectation and advice from paid consultants who should have known better than to think that this world-class facility would thrive in a city of about 90,000 people.
This museum was built just as George Bush's wars and tax cuts were intersecting to produce the worst economy in two generations, businesses were closing, unemployment was at a dangerous level, arts funding at every point of government was being dramatically cut or eliminated, a major hurricane helped put building materials out of reach, and this small city was on the verge of exhaustion from mismanagement and divisiveness.
When Georgeanne Bingham, the big-time museum professional brought in to open the Taubman, resigned shortly after the doors parted, my guess at the time was that she saw what was coming. And it wasn't thousands of people to spin the turnstiles.
Museum supporters strongly deny it, but anybody on a cultural board could see money for the arts drying up as The Taubman soaked nearly everything arts related from the community. Mill Mountain Theatre closed in its wake and nearly every other organization (the symphony excepted) is in some danger of closing or dramatically shrinking.
The projections for the museum were outsized and unrealistic from Day 1. Mike's story has all the numbers, so I won't repeat them here. But they are truly out of the park from the standpoint of expectation and delivery.
My guess is that if somebody like Anne Piedmont, who just opened her own statistics shop in Roanoke and was working for the Regional Partnership, had been hired to make projections for the museum, we'd have gotten something more like real numbers. Anne is an artist, a native, a statistical guru and a woman who will not bullshit you. All too often, highly-paid consultants from the major urban areas simply tell you what you want to hear, take the money and run.
In any case, I'm rooting for the museum to make a strong statement to the community and for the community to make a statement back that we want it. I also hope--strongly hope--that the museum board will work hard to integrate itself into the core of the arts community as a leader and an organization that responds to the need for all the arts to be healthy. A community with "art" and not "arts" has little.