MADRID — Miguel Zugaza would rather not talk about money. The director of the Prado Museum appears much more comfortable chatting about Titian or waxing poetic on the contemporary virtues of Velázquez. Should he dwell too long on, say, museum merchandising, he will change the subject.
"It makes it sound like I'm a businessman," he said defensively in his modest Madrid office, which is cluttered with art books.
But Zugaza, 40, is leading a quiet revolution amid the heavy golden frames and vaulted chambers of this national gallery, and money — especially corporate money — plays a large part.
Zugaza is the Prado's first professional museum manager. He was hired to implement a new law that granted the museum unprecedented financial autonomy.
Since his appointment in 2002, Zugaza has led a crusade to make the stuffy Prado more user-friendly and economically self-sustaining. He has extended the museum's opening hours, installed audio guides (which pay royalties) and doubled the entrance fee to €6, or $8
With the backing of a business-savvy board, he also started the museum's first corporate fund-raising drive. So far, he has raised roughly €6 million from the likes of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria and the Winterthur Foundation, which paid for blockbuster exhibits in exchange for considerations like the discrete logos on museum billboards.
Last year, shows on Titian, Manet and Vermeer increased attendance at the Prado by roughly 30 percent to 2.3 million visitors, who lined up along the sprawling neoclassical building for hours. Many of the newcomers were Spaniards.
"The Prado was an exceptional museum that was practically dead," said Fernando Francés, editor of the Spanish arts magazine Arte y Parte and director of the Contemporary Art Center of Málaga. "If you were already familiar with the important works, there was no reason to go. Zugaza brought it back to life."
The glamour of temporary exhibits is only part of Zugaza's crusade to revitalize the Prado.
For the first time, the museum will develop its own line of merchandise — from jewelry and scarves to souvenirs of the Velázquez masterpiece "Las Meninas" — and sell its catalogs abroad, according to the museum's commercial director, Elena Santodomingo, who also speaks of promoting the Prado "brand."
But the key to the museum's transformation is the €150 million expansion that is under way and is being paid for by the Spanish state. It will house a large, strategically placed gift shop, a small concert hall and an elegant restaurant, with room left over to rent out for corporate functions.
By 2008, the museum expects to double its revenue from these commercial sidelines, including cafeteria royalties and the sale of reproduction rights, to €3.3 million, Santodomingo said. Income from ticket sales is expected to rise by 30 percent to €8.5 million.
In Spain's artistic circles, some are wary about mixing all those price tags with these granite halls filled with somber portraits of kings and saints. José Manuel Pita Andrade, 82, an art historian and director of the Prado from 1978 to 1981, said he had a hard time getting used to this "American" model. "The museum used to be like a temple, a place of great respect," he said with a sigh. "These are different times."
Indeed, the Prado — historically run by aristocrats, artists and academics — is one of many national galleries in Europe that are shifting to "a corporate-style model of museum governance," said Bruce Altshuler, director of the Program in Museum Studies at New York University.
The trend is more than a product of tight state budgets. It reflects fashionable notions, already rooted in the United States and Britain, about a museum's changing role in society. Rather than sanctuaries of artistic treasures, museums are now increasingly seen as cultural complexes meant to educate and entertain the general public, Altshuler said.
Behind the scenes, museums are run more like corporations, too. At the Prado, business leaders have begun to outnumber the traditional host of artists and academics on the board of directors. Zugaza, like many other chief executives, has streamlined the staff, hiring outside the bureaucratic pool.
Zugaza's challenge, however, is to maintain artistic standards while keeping an eye on the bottom line. That is why is he is quick to point out that the Prado retains "total artistic control" of exhibits sponsored by corporations. It is also why he likes to stress what the extra revenue pays for: restoration workshops, painting acquisitions and educational programs.
Other museum directors like Philippe de Montebello of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art speak highly of Zugaza: So far, they say, he is striking a delicate balance between business and art.
The Prado's financial makeover began even before Zugaza's appointment. In 2001, a conservative government decided to change the museum's financing platform, ushering in a public-private partnership. Under its new bylaws, which Parliament approved in 2003, the Prado must gradually reduce its level of state sup- port to 50 percent from 80 percent.
In exchange, the museum gained control of the budget — now roughly €35 million — and the power to raise money from corporate donations and merchandising. In real terms, the government contribution will actually grow, Zugaza said, but it will become a smaller piece of a larger pie.
To justify this change, the government cited examples of other revenue-generating state museums in Europe, such as the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the National Gallery in London.
But Zugaza said his mission at the Prado had nothing to do with numbers and percentages. His bottom line: "That every visitor has a sensitive and personal experience with art."
Rather than a mere balance sheet, he sees the museum as "a great river."
"It grows from a spring of Flemish painting, widens at Titian's Venice, keeps flowing, fertilizing," he said. "When you lose your way, you must take a dip."Continue reading the main story
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