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Blueprint for a Museum of National Standing

August 11, 2007

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What puts the regionally important Denver Art Museum on the national map? According to Getty Museum Director Emeritus John Walsh, it’s not the 60,000 art objects in its collection, the 356,000 square feet in its buildings, or the 250 staff members who keep it all going.

Four factors are key in the museum’s pursuit of its self-described “national agenda,” Walsh says:

Some collections that are genuinely of national standing, along with the broader array of art that museum-goers expect. Walsh places Denver’s collections of American Indian art–especially Plains Indians–and of pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial art at or near the top in the country.

Major special exhibitions, which museum directors find a necessary but sometimes frustrating fact of life. According to Sharp, people tend to gravitate to the short-duration blockbuster events, often at the expense of better things in the permanent collection. Nevertheless, Walsh says, Sharp is highly effective as a trading partner on the circuit of traveling shows with a national appeal.

Serious public service. The Denver Art Museum is one of the top museums nationally in the area of connecting to the public, Walsh says. “He’s put great weight on education, given full support to his educational staff, and spent the money necessary to make the interpretive function exemplary.” The museum does comprehensive research about the visitor experience and emphasizes interactive learning for youngsters to bring along that next generation of art lovers. For example, a specially programmed Game Boy enables children to lead their family members on a museum tour.

Sex appeal–the sizzle needed for real visibility. “Denver has made a big move,” Walsh says, “producing a building that’s absolutely of our time, our moment, by an architect who’s become a household word.”

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