Directors at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Max Anderson) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (John Bullard), after a series of playful trash-talking, have made public bets on who will win the Super Bowl this weekend… and they bet famous works of art.
The wager: If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Museum of Art will lend Claude Lorrain’s, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for three months. If the Saints win, on the other hand, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will lend out Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800.
But it doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl this Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are winners in spreading their missions either way– just because they made the wager. Here’s why this bet is a step forward for museums in terms of mission and community engagement (and the reasons are cooler than you think):
1) The bet will build community and mix popular cultures.
Makes sense, right? Being a sports fan builds a sense of community; it’s something that a group of fans come together to care about. The art directors’ bet piggy-backs the art museum culture with the sport-watching culture, which is one of passion and identity. And why shouldn’t communities feel the same sense of ownership and connection with their city’s art museum as they feel with their city’s sport teams? Anderson and Bullard are demonstrating pride in their cities by making the wager, and aligning themselves directly with the members of the community- all of whom are also hoping for a win on Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are saying that the museum cares about a win just as much as the rest of Indianapolis and New Orleans do- and they’ll put their money where their mouth is. In turn, the community knows that folks representing the IMA and NOMA will be gasping, cheering, and shouting their lungs out along side them as they are watching the game; it’s a powerful thing. On the first day that the Lorrian is on display at NOMA (or Turner at IMA), a local will stand in front of it and say, “We won the bet!”
2) Scientifically speaking, the bet lights up the brains of art-lovers.
… but not in the way that you’re probably thinking. Many museums have missions to educate- and this public wager does just that. Of course, you learn a thing or two about art while looking over the give-and-take that led to the final wager (I certainly didn’t know that the Indianapolis Museum of Art owns a farm). Interestingly, a 2008 study from The University of Chicago finds that spectators’ brains light up when talking about sports, and their language skills are improved. According to the article, “the region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.” Most obviously, the bet encourages museum-fans to watch their city’s team (if only for hope of gaining a Turner or a Lorrain in their town) and art-lovers are exposed to this benefit. Or at least I will be, as I was neutral about the outcome of the Super Bowl until I realized that I will be in Indiana in the Summertime…
3) The bet makes art aficionados biologically happier.
To non-sports fans, the bet may seem silly– but sports fans are less prone to depression than those disinterested in sports. Gambling also increases dopamine levels in the brain, making fans– of the museum and the teams–happier. It’s a welcome change of pace, especially since human beings are hardwired to avoid conflict and we usually think of museums as on the same team. This is not to say that art museums should go betting works of art left and right, but it is to say that the friendly competition is an exciting and healthy change for museum lovers. After all, scientists credit social competition for human beings’ increasing brain-size. So thanks for keeping us happy, Anderson and Bullard– and for expanding our brains.
4) The bet has sass- and so do museums.
This wager makes Robert Smithson look silly for saying, “Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum.” Well, at least the first part looks dumb. Case in point: check out these trash-talking (friendly) tweets. Anderson and Bullard challenge the notion that museums are cold, static, outdated, and lifeless places. These museums have attitude, and they are acting in regard to current real-life situations. As for the last half of Smithson’s quote, it seems that everything is turning into a museum– or more accurately, museums are turning into places for everything… like friendly community-building wagers.