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What the MoMA Worker Protest Says About the Future of Museums

As museums balance pleasing donors and serving the public, where do employees fit in?
The former American Folk Art Museum, adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art, is shrouded during its deconstruction in New York City.
The former American Folk Art Museum, adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art, is shrouded during its deconstruction in New York City.AP Photo/Richard Drew

The Museum of Modern Art could easily fill all 125,000 square feet of its gallery space with the scorn it has received over the past year alone. New York City’s mecca of contemporary work has been criticized for press-pass-burning-bad celebrity art exhibitions, an overly conservative curatorial sensibility, and the demolition of the Museum of American Folk Art next door in order to make way for its own metastasizing footprint. Critics have compared visiting the institution, once a champion of radical artists, to visiting a mall during Christmas.

To the institution’s leadership, none of this seems to matter. MoMA’s primary goal, particularly since Glenn D. Lowry came on board as director in 1995, has been growth, furious growth. It has succeeded: As of 2014, the museum’s endowments and investments had grown to $838.9 million, up from $706.3 million in 2013 and way, way up from its pre-recession years. Visitorship has skyrocketed.