Battle for the Museum
Cultural Institutions in Crisis
Museums around the world are at a crossroads. Can they escape their infiltration by money and power, to operate ethically in today’s world?
Culture and power have been bedfellows since ancient times. But now, more than ever, exhibits and the organisations responsible for them have become part of our troubled politics. Protests force out problematic patrons and curators, and pressure museums to abandon fossil fuel sponsorship. Campaigners demand equality and diversity, and condemn exploitation of artists and staff alike. Those confronting racism and imperial legacies call for restitution of cultural objects.
Arts journalist Rachel Spence has watched these institutions become a flashpoint for today’s social divisions. She interviews those on the frontlines, from artists and activists to directors and donors, revealing stories of elitism, inequality and injustice. Business and finance launder their reputations through art fair and museum patronage, while governments bolster their authority by weaponising or attacking the arts—and ordinary museumgoers mobilise to demand better. How did we get here, and what lies ahead for these institutions?
From China and Russia to Helsinki and New York, from the British Museum and the Louvre to the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, Battle for the Museum uncovers a dark nexus of capital, culture and power—and a radical shift in attitudes, driven by resistance movements fighting fiercely for exhibition spaces that serve today’s public.
Rachel Spence is an arts writer and poet. Her reviews, features and reporting, chiefly for the Financial Times, often cover freedom of expression, and the politics behind international cultural institutions or programmes. Her poetry collections include Bird of Sorrow; Call and Response; and Venice Unclocked, a journey through Venice.