James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Hoving’s death a reminder of need for art–and marketing

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2009

Thomas Hoving, controversial former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, died yesterday. Because of what Hoving did for art, his death was deemed worthy of a front-page story in today’s print edition of the New York Times (and of  a story this morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition”). In what might be seen as a contradiction, as I write this the Times now prominently displays of its Web page a story questioning whether recent expenditures on art exhibit space around the country–expenditures that should be blamed at least in part on Hoving’s work with the Met–“ever made sense.”

I’ll let others answer that question about some of the more extravagant spaces, but as to the question of whether art deserves prominence in our society today, I definitely vote “yes.” In January when my wife and I took a dozen students to New York, the Met was one of the highlights–not just for us, but for the students. Some students admitted they didn’t expect to enjoy the museum, going because their friends went (it wasn’t a required stop) but all of them ended up spending several hours there.

I just finished walking through the newest academic building on my campus, the art building, where I viewed three-dimensional pieces that had been created to reflect of students’ worldviews. The small exhibit was inspiring–particularly considering the multiple hours students had put into work that few would ever see. Tonight I’ll attend an event at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, celebrating the opening of a new exhibit titled “Jumpin’ with the Big Bands.” In a bit of showmanship that Hoving might have enjoyed, the opening features a swing band (6 Foot Swing, whose lead singer, Heather O’Brien, also happens to be a former student of mine).

At the MAC I’ll also visit an exhibit titled “Art and People: Spokane Art Center and the Great Depression,” about the public works projects that employed artists and inspired others during the Depression. FDR knew that art mattered, and not just for the wealthy elites such as Thomas Hoving, even in tough times. Maybe especially in tough times.

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