Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Should we syndicate museums?

In my other life, I am an avid equestrian. I compete at the extreme low end of a sport that has recently garnered a great deal of attention for its Olympic profile and because Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, is involved in owning and riding competitive horses.

The vast majority of riders at the Olympics did not own their own horses. They rode horses owned by other people who pay the bills - much like jockeys don't own the racehorses they sit on. The Romneys co-own their mare, Rafalca, with one other person, and have been getting flak for the amount they spend on her. One thing that's been overlooked in coverage is a new trend in horse ownership at the upper levels: syndication.

Here's a great article about syndication, its structure, and what it offers both owners and riders.

Obviously, even with syndication, we're still taking serious money. These people are deeply invested in the horses and riders they support, and they have a certain degree of disposable income.

What about syndicating a museum?

At a certain level, that's what a membership program is for - charging a higher fee than regular admission in return for a series of tangible benefits. At another level, any major gift program is also going to have some guidelines for recognition of and ongoing relationships with its donors.

It strikes me, however, that there's something about syndication - in the way in which these equestrian supporters go about it - that's fundamentally more involved than simply writing a check and expecting a pat on the back. They are invested in the successes of their horses. They are able to bond with other syndicate members in a common cause. They experience joy at success and grief at failure. Some owners retire upper-level horses to their own backyards.

What is it about this system that can be transferred over to museums, and would it be helpful? Would soliciting a multi-year, large figure donation from a patron of a museum, and truly integrating that patron into the successes and failures and joys and challenges of the museum help that museum, or is that a recipe for disaster?

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