The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: A Growth Orientation (A)

3 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2019

See all articles by Rebecca Goldberg

Rebecca Goldberg

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

G. Paul Matherne

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

This mini-case set describes the challenges facing the new leadership of Richmond's Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) to revitalize and save the Museum. Alex Nyerges and Michael Taylor arrived in 2006 at a key point in the institution's history. Membership was flagging at around 5,000, and a major construction project was $20 million over budget. Residents of Richmond felt increasingly disconnected from the museum. Some even viewed its collection as irrelevant to modern life. Nyerges and Taylor faced difficult decisions regarding membership fees, museum hours, and the need to establish community engagement. As with other museums across the nation they also faced the daunting challenge of attracting younger patrons and families while preserving the older donor base. This case set is suitable for a class in Change Management, Designing for Growth, or any Nonprofit or Leadership class.

Excerpt

UVA-OM-1611

Dec. 21, 2018

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: A Growth Orientation (A)

Early to Mid-2000s

In the early 2000s, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), located in Richmond, Virginia, on the Boulevard, was suffering from a regrettably common state of affairs for art institutions in the United States at that time: low and declining memberships, a cost-conscious, risk-averse financial culture, and perceived lack of relevance in the city and state it was intended to serve. Leadership had responded to the slow decline of paying patrons with budget cuts, layoffs, a reduction in hours available to the public, and other austerity measures. It was open now just five days a week for six hours at a time. There were visual obstacles, as well, separating the building from the public eye: a foreboding, tall fence prevented view or access into a courtyard and small sculpture garden behind the stately building. The guards standing at attention seemed, to some, aloof, protective, and gruff—certainly not inviting. A suggested donation of $ 8 for entry to most of the museum's collection only added to the off-putting ethos many Richmonders and Virginians felt for the institution. By 2005, membership had fallen to just under 5,000, of which 300 were students at $ 25 per year, 1,903 were adults at $ 40, and 2,712 were seniors at $ 35. Only 162,000 people visited that year. In addition, museum leadership was concerned that while Richmond as a city was highly diverse, visitors to the VMFA did not nearly represent the diversity of the surrounding city and state.

Meanwhile, the VMFA had engaged in a capital campaign to expand its facilities, and the construction, which began in November 2005, had already fallen behind schedule and was $ 20million over budget, with more costs expected before completion. The financial situation began, to many, to feel like a continual state of “not enough.” It was common to hear the phrase “We can't afford that” tossed around in conversation, from the guards to those working in the cafeteria, right through to the administration. Could the museum ever regain true cultural relevance in accordance with its mission to safeguard and grow its treasures, and to provide an outstanding, enriching arts experience to all Virginia residents?

. . .

Keywords: art, art museums, nonprofit, nonprofit management, leadership, growth

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, Rebecca and Matherne, G. Paul, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: A Growth Orientation (A). Darden Case No. UVA-OM-1611. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3310481

Rebecca Goldberg (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

G. Paul Matherne

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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