After selecting the Museum of Fine Arts’ new Art of the America’s wing for a case study, I began researching everything I could find out about the wing. My research turned up a vast amount of information on the wing – its collection, the implementation plan, and its actualization. From the information I uncovered I realized there was much more to the wing than I saw when I visited. Like any large scale project, the fundraising and planning began long before opening day. I realized that any conclusions I might draw from an examination of the wing’s successes and weaknesses would be incomplete without a look into the beginnings of the project.
The roots of the project, and other large changes at the MFA, lie with the current director, Malcolm A. Rogers. When Mr. Rogers came to the MFA in 1994, he employed many strategies to revise the museum’s operations and exhibition programming, such as reorganizing the staff and having the museum hold shows that were appealing to a wider, more diverse audience. The revisions created a new image for a historical institution, helping it annually finish with a budget surplus.
Mr. Rogers also brought significant fundraising skills to his role as Director. The seven year campaign for raising funds for the new MFA wing began in 2001. All the sources I found discussing the (clearly successful) campaign emphasized that the fundraising ended in 2008, before the financial crisis. This certainly cleared up a few things in my mind about the difficulty of raising money in the current environment. The museum was very fortunate that its campaign was completed prior to the economic downturn. The campaign raised money not just for the construction of a brand new wing, but also for the museum’s endowment and operating expenses.
The campaign was able to draw in completely new donors, an incredibly difficult feat, and also was able to draw in people from outside of the Boston area, including some big name New York philanthropists. In the seven year funding campaign, the museum was able to raise an astonishing $504 million, plus an additional $165 million in art donations. The article I found even compared this fundraising feat to other big museums, and commented that it was more successful than attempts by both Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.
It seems that Mr. Rogers has a very successful approach. He explained, in a New York Times article by Judith Dobrznski, that the key when approaching donors is to not ask for money for what you need, rather to phrase the request in terms of a grander vision – of what the museum wants to be and could be. Approaching potential donors with the opportunity to be part of making a great institution greater is a very strategic way to address the problem of fundraising. My Development course, which I am currently in the midst of completing, has definitely led me to see that first hand. Every interaction with potential funders should have a strategy lined out – one backed by extensive research and strong reasoning that always attaches to the mission.
It seems that the MFA was highly successful in its fundraising tasks for several reasons. Its Director strongly believes in the museum and its potential and excels at fundraising. He is also willing to use his time to entertain and court potential donors. The museum had a strategy to go beyond the city of Boston, wooing established donors from other cities and targeting people who went to college at one of Boston’s many schools and might have fond memories of the MFA. During its campaign, the museum was also wise enough to secure promises for donations of important collections and artworks – an essential factor that should never be overlooked in a quest for financial support.
The museum’s success in raising funds was a large battle, but not even close to the only task that museum staff had at hand in the creation of the new wing. The next post will examine the planning procedure and how all the the museum addressed building an entirely new wing, reinstalling the new and existing parts of the collection, and using the process to create a new image.