New way to connect art, public

Director of the Walters Art Museum is reaching out through blog

March 11, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

Five years ago, when someone suggested to Gary Vikan, the director of the Walters Art Museum, that he start a blog, he didn't know what a blog was. Not many people did.

Now, inspired by the millions of people who are sounding off on the Internet, Vikan has added his voice to the mix. He thinks he's the first major museum director to do so.

In his third posting on thewalters.org/blog late last month, Vikan pulled no punches.

He took on his colleagues at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, Calif., for increasing their admission price to $19.

"The Bowers' arguments for going from $5 to $19 include the notion that you only get what you pay (read `work') for, which suggests to me that a fee of $25 or $50 might be even better," wrote Vikan, sarcastically.

"We do not own the assets," he wrote later in the posting. "They belong to the public."

Vikan, who has lead the Walters since 1994, told his readers that, five months into the establishment of free admission at the museum, "attendance is up nearly 40 percent."

Tinkering on his laptop in his ornate office the other day, Vikan said he plans another use for the Web -- as a place to post images of all 5,000 art objects in the Walters' collection.

"The Internet is a free gift for all, with boundaries yet to be discovered," Vikan said. "There are many more perspectives to be acknowledged, and as a public institution, that's part of our work."

His blog, he said, is a way of reaching people directly.

"If I'm quoted in a newspaper, it comes out framed by somebody else," Vikan said.

"Why shouldn't I frame it for myself? But it's nothing different than what I would say at a cocktail party."

One of the pieces he's working on is about the length of time that an average museum-goer spends looking at a work of art -- nine seconds.

"What if you listened to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for nine seconds?" he asked.

Snapping his fingers, he added, "It would be over like that."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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