Bruce G. Carruthers (Northwestern University): Museums, Money and Markets: Crisis and imitation in US art museums 2007-2011

Although they are nonprofit organizations, U.S. art museums have recently adopted a number of “business-like” organizational features. When considering whether to embrace a new feature, museums frequently look to their fellow institutions, and over time such imitation begets isomorphism. The global financial crisis of 2008-9 provided a massive exogenous shock that undermined the resource base of many museums, spurring action as they tried to compensate for falling revenues and shrinking endowments.

Using panel data from the population of US art museums, we model an overall “market practice” score, measuring the extent to which a museum has particular business positions, as well as the adoption of specific business or financial positions (e.g., “business manager” or “chief financial officer”) for museum personnel. It is clear that the crisis altered the imitative behavior of museums, shifting their focus from leading organizations (like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) to peer organizations, from geographically distant to proximate organizations, and altering the focus within organizational networks. We consider the implications of this change for theories of organizational attention under conditions of uncertainty.



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