Much has been said and speculated about the US arts building boom of the late 1990s/early 2000s, with expansions, renovations and new starchitect-designed buildings rampant among arts institutions. But what were the actual results and costs of all these projects? Were they successful? Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center set out to answer these questions, conducting a study of more than 700 building projects at over 500 organizations between 1994 and 2008, with costs for the projects ranged anywhere between $4 million and $335 million. The center released the study, titled “Set in Stone,” yesterday, and while some of the findings are surprising, they tend to confirm what many people probably already suspected.
The American Folk Art Museum, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is probably the most iconic of the failed starchitecture monuments to American museum hubris. (image via creativecultivation.blogspot.com)
At the heart of “Set in Stone” is the conclusion that arts organizations generally overspent and overbuilt. The boom was fueled by an assumption, across nearly all of the organizations, that new facilities would bring in bigger audiences and more money. But it didn’t work out that way for many of them. As one of the study’s seven authors, Carroll Joynes, said in the press release, “It’s not an automatic, ‘you build it, and they will come.’”