Accessible Culture

Making culture accessible has become the mission of arts organizations in the 21st century. Two luminaries of the New York City museum scene discussed progress, positions, and pitfalls in making the arts more diverse and open.

NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl was previously director of the Queens Museum, which, under his watch, underwent an expansion by Grimshaw that doubled the museum’s size. The project, he said, came down to a one-word directive: openness. This meant advocating for community engagement, rather than outreach, during and after the museum’s expansion. In his current role, Finkelpearl extends funding to some 2,000 organizations, promotes diversity in the city’s cultural organizations, and advances the municipal ID card program that allows free access to museums for one year.

Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum, argued that we’re in a “period of cultural expansion and have to get over the elitist, or even dangerous, insularity of our institutions.” By removing the barriers of time, distance, and cost, there can be greater community involvement and interaction. People need to feel comfortable and included.

With regards to the Internet, both Philips and Finkelpearl wondered if brick-and-mortar museums are necessary or the right way to move forward. Phillips noted the power of such platforms as The New York Times Op Docs website in bringing issues to a greater number of people. Meanwhile, Finkelpearl stated that, while he loves museums, they can enforce boundaries and may need a fundamental re-design. Nonetheless, a physical presence and space to gather is paramount to a museum’s mission. Both agreed that a greater diversity is needed within the institutions, from directorship to staff, in order to truly create inclusionary cultural assets.

James Way, Assoc. AIA, Co-chair of the AIANY Marketing and Communications Committee and Marketing Manager at Morris Adjmi Architects, frequently contributes to eOculus. 

Event: Making Culture Accessible: Tom Finkelpearl and Lisa Phillips in Conversation
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.24.15
Speakers: Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; Lisa Phillips, Director, New Museum; Michael Plottel, AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Public Architecture Committee; and Anna Torriani, AIA, Co-chair, AIANY Public Architecture Committee
Organized by: AIANY Public Architecture Committee
Co-Sponsored by:
AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee