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Art museum begins new strategic direction

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Print this page Heather B. Hayes

Officials at the Taubman Museum of Art appear to be converts to the idea that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Executive Director David Mickenberg says the Taubman has changed its mission to now become a regional art center and museum.

For the past two years, the 52-year-old institution has struggled with the ramifications of bad timing and overly optimistic thinking. It moved into its architecturally striking new building in downtown Roanoke in November 2008 — just as the economy went into freefall. The museum had been expected to become a key component of downtown Roanoke’s revitalization and a cultural destination for tourists.

Taubman officials had based most of their key financial decisions on projections made by a consultant in 2004 that the new location would draw up to 270,000 visitors annually and reap more than $1.6 million in annual revenue from admission fees, space rentals and museumstore sales. Instead, the museum has seen just 180,000 visitors a year since its move and revenues of less than $335,000 for the
2010-11 budget. “This crisis has caused us to truly listen to the community and really rethink what kind of art institution could thrive in Roanoke,” says Mickenberg. “This notion of a museum as a standalone institution just showing exhibitions and not integrated into the community is something that will not succeed here.”

As a regional art center, the Taubman will work closely with educational systems, collaborate with regional artists and other cultural institutions, and provide a broader range of exhibitions. In addition, it will offer more performances, courses and family programming. Mickenberg believes that the new strategic vision will make the museum sustainable — but it will be an expensive transition, requiring support from regional businesses and the public.

Mickenberg told a group of 300 museum supporters that the Taubman would need to raise more than $1.2 million annually to remain operational. Top strategies for achieving this goal include: a grass-roots fundraising drive, a campaign to boost museum membership from 2,800 to 7,000 and the recruitment of more than 100 corporate sponsors. Thus far, Mickenberg says, the response has been
overwhelmingly positive. Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership, is one of those supporters. “It’s really important that Taubman thrive moving forward because it’s a prominent asset that makes a statement about this community,” she says.

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