Art museum’s rapid success a step on road to greatness
Written by Michael Lewis on April 9, 2014
How heartening was our report last week that the new Pérez Art Museum Miami has shattered projections, welcoming more than 150,000 visitors in four months.
That’s a resounding success in stewardship of public funds, a boon to tourism, a boost for a booming downtown, a reaffirmation of arts and culture, and a confidence-builder after other county bond money had been squandered.
The museum had forecast 200,000 patrons in its first year at a new bayfront home. Even allowing for slowing after attendance was augmented by novelty, visits this year should double projections.
Compared with Miami-Dade’s expenditures of nearly $3 billion for a Marlins baseball stadium that barely nudged sales up, the county’s $100 million in bonded debt for museum construction looks like the wisest of investments.
Those first 150,000 visitors aren’t all collectors of modern and contemporary art, nor are they all aficionados. We don’t have 150,000 of them.
The museum no doubt has awakened intellectual curiosity in folks to whom art has never so far been central. That awakening over time will expand art interest and enrich the lives of thousands who have developed awareness in their visits.
Those who pooh-poohed use of public funds for a few effete arts patrons now can witness ordinary Miamians enjoying the museum, and learning.
The museum culminates a process that began with the Center for the Fine Arts at 101 W Flagler St. as a county-owned viewing hall for visiting exhibits. Some staff were county employees, some private.
In 1996 the site changed to the Miami Art Museum and became a not-for-profit institution, with the county as its largest donor. The museum began collecting art and curating exhibitions.
Now the former CFA and MAM has become PAMM, at a new home with vastly more space and a broad array of possible offerings as it enters the realm of major museums. From a hidden Flagler Street home it has become a visible downtown jewel.
But multiple challenges lie ahead. The MAM had a $6 million budget. As PAMM, that’s to grow to $16 million, with far more staff and more to offer.
Why that jump? Think about more than doubling visitors and adding offerings beyond just gallery visits. The museum has already added staff as visits grow, funded by admission fees and new membership income. But how fast can those sources expand?
Budget gains hinge on a growing endowment, with earnings fueling bigger budgets. That requires more donors, not government funds. Arts patrons who are served better will have to put their money where their aspirations are.
Beyond escalating funding needs, other questions surround the museum, many extending beyond the realm of PAMM’s dedicated volunteers and staff.
One is traffic. Choked Biscayne Boulevard has no more lanes than it had before we built the museum, or the Arsht arts center, or American Airlines Arena, or the new and rising condo towers.
Related is mass transit. Metromover stops at the museum’s door. Will Miamians, notoriously averse to transit, use it in big numbers?
Another question is what happens to the nearby ex-Miami Herald site, recently ticketed for the world’s largest casino. Synergies with modern and contemporary art are nil.
A fourth is development of the city’s half of Museum Park. The city planned a world-class park but can barely summon money and vision for grass, a few trees and a walkway. Neither PAMM nor the ambitious Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science rising next door will achieve full potential without city vision and money for a top-level park.
A fifth is synergy with the science museum. Logically, visitors would come for the morning to one museum, lunch at one of the two and spend the afternoon at the other. What an opportunity for museums to unite on two-fer admissions, promotions and events.
Another issue is return visits. Once you’ve seen PAMM, will you be more or less likely to return? Exhibitions change, but what marketing will augment return visits?
The need for top-echelon art donations will linger. Collectors have been giving more pieces to the upgraded museum, but Miamians’ biggest contemporary collections are exhibited privately. Some key collectors resent the museum. Until large, quality collections flow to PAMM, it will depend heavily on outside exhibits. Great museums develop great collections.
While questions are being resolved, PAMM’s visibility will continue to drive growth. A spectacular science museum next door will be a plus. A growing downtown will add patronage.
We hail the success to date. The Pérez Art Museum Miami made a lot of big promises. So far, it has more than kept them.
What a spectacular model for positive growth of urban amenities.