An Exhibition of Optimism
In the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, museum admissions declined sharply, exhibitions were cancelled, and in the turbulence, administrators began examining whether they could continue to publish books as a result.
Today, “there is generally a very optimistic feeling, which is not to say it’s easy. It’s still very difficult, but it’s an exciting time, and I feel really good about our future,” says Yale University Press Publisher Patricia Fidler. “No one was saying that a few years ago.”
Currently, her art and architecture division publishes 120 books annually, of which roughly 60 percent stem from Yale’s museum partners.
Stephanie Medlock, associate director of professional studies at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies, says enrollment in her department’s museum publishing seminar increases annually, especially among smaller or new museums. These attendees tend to evaluate future publications on how well they fulfill a mission, whether that is a souvenir to bring folks back, highlight a permanent collection, or perhaps engage children to build future traffic.
“We all had to think very carefully about how we do things in order to continue,” Fidler says. “And sometimes the answers are not what we wanted, but we had to look at the reality to get equilibrium back.”
New Days, New Ways
Old-fashioned, solid business decisions now drive many museums’ production output. For starters, kiss goodbye the automatic assumption that an exhibition equals a book. A majority of officials now question that knee-jerk reaction—could they be more effective offering an extensive brochure instead?
“Museums are more receptive to the idea of conceiving and structuring a book as something that can stand alone without an exhibition,” says Fidler.
True, the cost of production standards weigh heavily into the go or no-go decision process, but cutbacks don’t mean the death of quality in this segment.