A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1882-2000

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Wayne State University Press, 2001 - Architecture - 315 pages
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The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of America's largest and oldest municipal art museums. However, even as the museum grew into a distinguished collection, there were threats of closure. The DIA has walked a financial tightrope since it opened just over a century ago, and was nearly closed by government funding cuts in the 1970s and 1990s. Now Jeffrey Abt tells how the DIA has had to struggle to maintain its fine art collection with barely enough income to remain open.

A Museum on the Verge goes behind the scenes at the DIA to disclose the political, economic, and social forces that shaped the museum from its founding to the present day. Drawing on new archival research, Abt reveals that the growing discrepancy between the museum's size and its operating budget was the result of a century of ad hoc solutions to institutional problems that left the DIA vulnerable to annual income losses -- especially reductions of government funding. He also explains its complex relations with private and government entities and delineates the integral role of the museum's support group, the Founders Society.

Abt's account is supplemented by a wealth of material, including legal documents and numerical data taken at five-year intervals from the 1880s through 2000 that is presented in both tables and graphs. The data, which comprehensively survey vital statistics such as attendance, collections growth, and finances, provide a rich resource for comparative research on other museums. As a case study of a prominent public institution, A Museum on the Verge offers an invaluable research model for scholars and museum professionals alike.


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List of Abbreviations and Symbols
Taste and Wealth Enough to Found a Gallery 18821908
Failed Plans Fresh Crises and a Third Start 19832000

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About the author (2001)

Jeffrey Abt is professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University. He is the author of "A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1885 2000".

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