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Museums… So What?

Category: Influence of Museums
Four young students staring at a sculpture of neon and incandescent lightbulbs - their faces illuminated by the bulbs
Students observing the Jim Hodges exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art

A part of the CODE | WORDS series, this post by Robert Stein looks at existing challenges to the value of museums by ideologies like effective altruism and others. Making the case that museums should be more serious about proving their life-changing impacts with hard data, Stein proposes a number of ideas and proof-points that museums might consider for their own work.

The problem lies with the cultural sector’s inability to mount a compelling case of evidence to convince these “effective altruists” that tangible and meaningful benefit does indeed result from investing in the arts and culture. Our impassioned arguments about how museums can change lives and bring communities closer together are all well-and-good, but they mean very little to a data-driven philanthropist if we cannot bring supporting evidence with us to prove our point.

-Robert Stein

In August last year, the ethicist and contemporary philosopher Peter Singer wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that struck a nerve with me and with many in the arts community (Singer, 2013). In it he compares the relative value of giving to the arts with giving to charities that are actively working to cure blindness.

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