by Gene Marrano
The budget shortfall has been cut in half, memberships are up and progress is being made in connecting the facility with the rest of the community. That was executive director David Mickenberg’s assessment of where the Taubman Museum of Art is these days. Mickenberg made his remarks at a town hall meeting last week, the second in a series that will include at least one more in 4-6 months. The first was held last November. “It’s been an exceptional series of months,” said Mickenberg of the progress made.
“One of the things we said is that we would listen to you,” Taubman Board of Trustees president Paul France told several hundred people who gathered in the Taubman’s atrium. “It’s really important for all of the cultural organizations [in Roanoke] to survive. We need your support.”
Mickenberg noted that Norah’s Café had a new owner, talked about new programs being put in place for children, and was appreciative of Roanoke City’s support for the museum via a recent $100,000 grant. That money will be used for an educational program that “solidifies” the Taubman’s relationship with Roanoke City Schools said Mickenberg. City Council is “helping us remain viable,” he added. That grant also means city students will get into the museum free, starting this fall.
Visiting a museum like the Taubman (which required $66 million to build) should be an experience said Mickenberg, who has been on the job for about a year and a half: “It’s about what you remember. One visit here ain’t enough.” Mickenberg also envisions the Taubman as a “respite for the artists in our community.”
As for his progress report card, Mickenberg talked about reduced admission fees (by 35%), corporation-sponsored free Saturdays, donations that are now entirely tax deductible and a quest to make the museum more transparent in dealings with the community outside its doors. About 1000 people showed up at the first two free Saturdays held recently.
The youth-oriented Art Venture room is being retooled and will debut again later this year added Mickenberg. Bare walls on the second floor and the ground floor atrium now feature art, something that Mickenberg said, “has a more human scale.” Exhibitions will rotate more frequently, a remark that evoked applause.
Joint ticketing with other local arts organizations will begin with the O. Winston Link Museum, another announcement that drew applause from the audience. A reinvented “Museum School” opened last month and will return in September again with “an expanded version,” said Mickenberg.
A two-year decline in memberships has been stopped, with an uptick to about 3200 (from 2800) since November. That’s before a new membership campaign playfully entitled “Friends with Benefits” has even begun noted Mickenberg. On the wish list: a $30 million endowment fund that can address financial needs long term. “That takes a long time to ramp up to,” noted Mickenberg.
Target mailings to core constituencies in southwest Roanoke County, South Roanoke and the Grandin Court area are planned to help bring those numbers up towards the goal of 6-8000 memberships. Corporate giving is up sharply in recent months, as are private contributions, said Mickenberg.
During a question and answer session, one attendee suggested Mickenberg do more to attract patrons from the Smith Mountain Lake area, something he said would be investigated.
Look for Virginia Tech students teaching about film documentaries this summer, a relationship with Virginia Western “just beginning to blossom,” an expanded roster of “Conversations” with local artists, family movies at the Taubman and more community outreach, said Mickenberg, in a wide-ranging progress report he gave with assistance from a Power Point presentation.
The budget deficit, about 1.2 million, has been pared down to about half of that. “We are happy with where we are going,” declared Mickenberg, who pledged to hold another town hall in 4-6 months, hoping to give another optimistic update then. “We’re on the right path … slowly but surely we’re getting there.”