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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seattle Art Museum's Brand Needs More Corporate?

Posted by on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kimerly Rorschach, SAM's new director, at length. You can listen to the full interview here.

Then, last week, Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times ran an interview with Rorschach, in which she is quoted as saying,

Are there things we can learn from Starbucks? Are there things we can learn from Costco? Are there things we can learn from Microsoft about our markets and how we target our potential customers?

Maybe Rorschach was just making an offhand comment (and maybe she doesn't know about gross stories like this one, which help to explain why many people despise brands like Costco), and we're certainly not hearing the context of the rest of the conversation.

But it's worth noting as well the casual use of the word "customers," which implies the default setting that the museum is a business. Which it is. And also, it isn't.

These aren't new issues. They emphasize what's essentially the split personality of many large arts nonprofits: In the galleries and education rooms, we are creativity itself, but in the behind-the-scenes boardrooms and offices, we are a corporate monolith. A freak in the street but a lady in bed.

Is that even possible?

And does hopping back on the bandwagon of profit-maximizing corporate America—given, among other less quantifiable things, "Subprime Mess Topples Seattle Art Museum's Faustian Tower Deal"—seem like forward-thinking stewardship?

UPDATE: Right after I posted this, somebody said to me that Rorschach sounds like she's just trolling for dollars (from those companies) without any intention of changing SAM (to make it more like those companies). That's entirely possible. The proof is always in what the museum does, not in the public statements. We don't know yet what Rorschach's SAM looks like.

 

Comments (27) RSS

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ERIN! 1
Either way it's kind of gross. Let's hope it isn't a sign of things to come.
Posted by ERIN! on February 13, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
2
What does your interview with her have to do with anything you wrote subsequently in this post? Are you just suggesting that Michael Upchurch copied you by interviewing her? That she told him things that she intentionally kept hidden from you? Just plugging your own interview? Something else?
Posted by ian on February 13, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
3
You don't have to like everything about Costco (or Starbucks or Microsoft) to be able to learn something from their marketing expertise. Even a journalist with no understanding whatsoever of the business side of things (Hey, The Stranger accepts cigarette ads!) can grasp that concept.
Posted by bigyaz on February 13, 2013 at 1:48 PM · Report this
4
@2: Just plugging my own interview, yep, where you might be able to hear her voice for yourself and gain more information about the subject at hand. (The humanity!)

@3: Just seems to me like those businesses might be profitable, but those brands are hardly popular. Maybe I'm not thinking right.
Posted by Jen Graves on February 13, 2013 at 1:53 PM · Report this
5
SAM is learning from its corporate models in more ways than one: employees were just told their pensions have been frozen.
Posted by SAMobserver on February 13, 2013 at 2:05 PM · Report this
Fnarf 6
@4, you don't think Starbucks and Costco are popular? With approximately $15 billion and $100 billion in annual sales respectively?
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 2:07 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 7

And now we see the full stupidity of the last 20 years in Seattle History come full course.

Step One: Take something fully paid for and well loved and in a location that is readily accessible to people. SAM at Volunteer Park.

Step Two: Come up with a reason why we have to move it.

Step Three: Create some mandate about Urbism and insist that it be part of a high value, high build process and locate it in a "dense core" where there is almost no parking, and the land values are high.

Step Four: Make it larger than it ever was, in the hopes that someday, your population will quadruple (even as birth rates sink).

Step Five: Then suddenly after eating every cookie in the jar, stand up on a podium and say "we need more money!"

Step Six: Decide that the new art museum/sports arena/bridge/tunnel/university is no longer good enough, and create a plan to scrap it, add more taxes, and bilk the feds for an additional 20 billion.

Well.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on February 13, 2013 at 2:07 PM · Report this
Mittens Schrodinger 8
Actually, Starbucks and Microsoft are great examples of marketing. they wouldn't be nearly as successful as they are without it. Marketing here in the context of properly identifying and satisfying target market means identifying those customers (in this case, museumgoers, donors, board members, etc.) and making sure that they are receiving some valuable benefit from the museum that they are willing to pay for. That payment may take the form of cash for admittance, more donations, more volunteer docent time, more attendance at SAM events, greater attendance at free events, etc. It doesn't mean just giving people crappy experiences at high prices.
Every successful organization (from businesses to non-profits) conducts marketing activities to identify who finds value from their services and tries to maximize the value those users get from those services. The fact that you find Starbucks and Microsoft icky or unpopular just means you are not in their target market.
Posted by Mittens Schrodinger on February 13, 2013 at 2:12 PM · Report this
9
Jen, I completely disagree with your hypothesis that Starbuck and Costco are not popular brands. According to Forbes, Starbucks is the 54th most popular brand in the world (http://onforb.es/XMkKIQ) and while Costco doesn't place in the top 100 even a casual observer would have to conclude that their brand is far more beloved than loathed.
Posted by I Got Nuthin' on February 13, 2013 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Fnarf 10
@6, what, exactly, is your problem? Why are you incapable of forming any opinion on any subject whatever that has even the slightest relationship to reality? Every one of your "points" there is total bullshit -- not just wrong, but nonsensical. "Urbism"? What kind of dickhead thing is that? What is wrong with you? Why aren't you trying to fix it, instead of annoying people with brains constantly?

SAM is a great institution, arguably the best cultural institution in the PNW, and it's vastly superior to what it used to be when it was solely at Volunteer Park.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 2:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 11
@7, I mean. I did not intend to rant at myself -- I save that for private!
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 2:35 PM · Report this
lauramae 12
The primary purpose of marketing is to make people aware of your existence and to demonstrate why they should be interested in what you are doing or selling. In the instance of Starbucks, Costco and Microsoft, there is a specific brand associated with the experience they offer. If the only marketing tool a museum uses is to tell people that this is "great art" and "you should like it and want to see it" then you have a museum that will never create more patrons.

Why should people want to come look at the collection? Why should they want to see a special show? How does that relate to their lives today?

I'm not ever eager to agree with 7 on most issues, but there is a question as to how to attract people to come to a place that will also present some parking issues for you. So in addition to the admission fee, you will pay 2 times that for parking.
Posted by lauramae on February 13, 2013 at 2:49 PM · Report this
laterite 13
People hate Costco? The company that actually treats both its customers and employees like human beings? I'm no 1%-er but my long position on COST has padded my Roth IRA very generously.
Posted by laterite on February 13, 2013 at 2:50 PM · Report this
14
@12: Exaggerate much? Admission to SAM is $20. On nights and weekends (when the vast majority of people visit) you can park for less than $10. During the day, of course, there is plenty of public transportation. (Which, by the way, is not true of Volunteer Park -- which also could never accommodate parking for all of SAM's car visitors in addition to regular park visitors.)
Posted by bigyaz on February 13, 2013 at 2:56 PM · Report this
15
@6 is the same guy who thinks the TacomaDome (TacomaDump) is an ideal location for an NBA franchise to play. He never tires of being not just wrong, but spectacularly so.

Posted by bigyaz on February 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM · Report this
Fnarf 16
@12, since when is $6 (for four hours) twice as much as $17 (or $20 if you want to see the traveling exhibits)? Parking at SAM is a steal for downtown; it's cheaper than a frigging meter.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 3:03 PM · Report this
17
Eh. SAM's fate has been sealed ever since they moved from a beautiful building in Volunteer Park with a Tsutakawa in front to (the first) terrible building downtown, with the third-largest Hammering Man in the world in front.
Posted by Warren Terra on February 13, 2013 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Fnarf 18
@17, yes, if it was 1992, that would be sad. But it's not; SAM is in a great building and has a great collection. And the Volunteer Park building is still there, should you want to see the best collection of Asian art in the US.

We do not need to be speaking of Hammering Man. I'm sure you've brought home a few things you're not proud of after a hard night's boozing, yeah?
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 3:51 PM · Report this
19
@#18
The current building is not as monumentally dumb as the first one, I'll grant you (to be sure, the first downtown SAM was possibly the dumbest museum building ever conceived). But it's forgettable (it is in effect a featureless box, with its upper floors dedicated to an uninspired arrangement of boxy rooms that do at least suffice to supply walls for the mounting of artworks), and its first floor is utterly wasted, serving only to betray and debase what I am informed could if properly displayed be an interesting sculpture involving cars - a sculpture that as mounted echoes the utter soullessness of the Hammering Man, and a sculpture that has nothing at all to do with any recognizeable or distinctive mission of the Seattle Art Museum.

RE the Hammering Man, the people who run the SAM didn't just make the error in haste - at some considerable leisure, they compounded the error, using the sculpture to brand the institution. The only interesting thing that's ever happened involving the sculpture was that Labor Day when Subculture Joe attached a ball and chain, and so of course the SAM nitwits had conniptions and removed the bland corporate icon's sole redeeming feature.
Posted by Warren Terra on February 13, 2013 at 4:08 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
@19, it seems to me that a "featureless box" that "suffice to supply walls for the mounting of artworks" is doing the job of a museum building pretty darn well.

What counts is the art that's inside the box, not the walls it's mounted on, and SAM's collection is (a) pretty damn good for a city this size and (b) a hell of a lot better than it was 20 or 30 years ago. There's still a few WTF areas in the collection, like the porcelain room, but some moments of pure genius, like Louis Sullivan's elevator doors -- what other museum in the US would even have that spark of imagination? And the African art, the American Indian art (including a small but stunning case or two of Mexican stuff, including a ceremonial house from Nayarit), and the goddamned miraculous Australian Aboriginal art all stand with the best collections of their kind in the country.

You're allowed to have a few dogs when you've got stuff like that.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 21
Look, the current building sucks.

First of all it really isn't that big..it has the feeling of a sliver rather than the true monumental feel of a wide stone building (like most art museums other than modern ones have).

But apparently it costs so much to run that rather than focusing on exhibits that are both Northwest in flavor and can bring in enough to pay the bills, they have to resort to "chestnuts" like Picasso and Warhol. Ok, maybe Warhol fits (although ultimately Seattle has gone so much further) but seeing Picasso in a dreary raintown just isn't a good thing. Especially if one has already been to the Prado.

Look, this is what happened when you get a lot of shysters trying to turn Seattle into New York, LA, San Francisco. It's none of those!!

You know what Seattle was once and could have been..could have been I tell you..is Stockholm.

Seattle used to Stockholm and it could be again.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on February 13, 2013 at 5:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 22
@21, you're just stupid, that's all.

"Seattle used to be Stockholm" -- what the fuck does that even mean? You've obviously never been anywhere near Stockholm to utter such rubbish. IRRELEVANT rubbish, too, which is a specialty of yours.

Neither have you apparently been to many museums, or, if you have, you have not looked very closely at them. "Wide stone buildings" -- yes, if the Met is the only thing that comes to mind. You're trying to have it both ways, too -- you want SAM to be more like classic European museums -- "wide stone buildings -- but regard attempts at traditional art draws -- Picasso, Warhol -- to be grasping for chestnuts.

You're an idiot. SAM is in fact not noted for its Picasso or Warhol collections, or its "chestnuts. It IS noted for a good dozen other things, some of which I have enumerated here, none of which you have the vaguest comprehension of. Of the past dozen traveling or special exhibits, how many count as "chestnuts"? Fucking NONE of them.

You're a numbskull, Bailo. You think you know what class is and how to recognize it, but you're just reading off a piece of paper you first read in high school. You're a square, and a stupid square to boot, lacking the imagination to see what's in the room with you. You ARE the blinkered dipshit that SAM used to cater to, once upon a time, who thinks everything he's heard of is a boring old chestnut and everything he hasn't is garbage.

Stockholm. For Chrissakes, what a dipshit. SAM should use YOU in their marketing; I see a big print ad with your picture and the tag line "this guy doesn't like us".
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 13, 2013 at 5:48 PM · Report this
alpha unicorn 23
"The problem is that although art has always been a commodity, it loses its inherent value when it is treated only as such. To lock it into a market circus is to lock people out of contemplating it." Robert Hughes
Posted by alpha unicorn on February 13, 2013 at 7:25 PM · Report this
wilbur@work 24
Costco-hate and SAM-hate all in the same post!

Conflatulations, "Art-Critic", collect your pennies. Nice jorb!
Posted by wilbur@work on February 13, 2013 at 9:34 PM · Report this
25
Could everyone stop banging on about the Hammering Man. It isn't even part of SAM's collection. It belongs to the city, as does the Tsutakawa at Volunteer Park.
Posted by goyasdog on February 13, 2013 at 9:57 PM · Report this
26
Er... actually I meant Noguchi at Volunteer Park. I was momentarily swayed by the previous post.
Posted by goyasdog on February 13, 2013 at 11:24 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 27
Art is tedious and non-productive:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenascro…

Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on February 13, 2013 at 11:27 PM · Report this

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