Yesterday, EV Grieve reader CLAJR left this comment on our BMW Guggenheim toilet post... the comment/essay deserves its own post...
Thought folks might be interested in this, which I wrote in August.
The presence of BMW Guggenheim Lab on my block has me asking a lot of questions about the role of corporate foundations in policy development.
Predictably, Labbers insist their corporate patron is enlightened, unselfish, benign. In my experience, corporate philanthropic activity is always closely aligned with business interests. Cultural and academic institutions have been colonized by corporate money in a way that makes it hard to view them as independent agents in service to the public good. Or have I just been reading too much Chris Hedges, watching too much Inside Job?
One Labber told me that as a European, she was familiar with public distaste for corporate sponsorship. She patiently explained that, while in many European countries the state supported the arts and culture, it was because Europe lacked a "culture of philanthropy," like the one we have in the U.S. She argued that private patronage of the arts was an age-old practice (I think the Medicis were mentioned), and that there is "good" corporate sponsorship and "bad" corporate sponsorship. Presumably, McDonalds and KFC (whose logos were ubiquitous in the film shown last Thursday, Jem Cohen's "Chain") are "bad" and BMW is "good." This looks like plain old luxury branding to me. In fact, the Guggenheim itself could be considered an upmarket chain.
And it wouldn't be such a huge problem if, say, BMW helped to pay for the production of a film series or a music festival that was open to the public. But the BMW Guggenheim Lab purportedly exists to explore solutions to some of the biggest challenges our society faces: basic resource and infrastructure use, political use of public space, how to prevent cities from being "segrified" (a BMW/Gugg neologism I believe is meant to include both the ideas of gentrification and segregation).
The BMW Guggenheim Lab defines itself is "Part urban think tank, part community center and public gathering space" Do we really believe that a privileged class of PhD candidates in the pay of a luxury carmaker are the best heads to put together on these problems? And do we really believe that this is a "community center," when the reality is that BMW Guggenheim bought their way into our community by paying to get rid of the rats that had long made the site uninhabitable (residents had no success over 20 years in raising money to do so.) Talk about privatization of basic services!
Judging from the academic jargon spoken here, the "community" being addressed is the international "creative class," whose interests may not be directly aligned with those of our local community, or in fact, 88% of the world. I hear no Spanish. I hear no Chinese. I barely hear English, I mostly here Academ-ese.
The Labbers (or as I like to think of them, Blabbers) seem impatient with criticism about corporate branding and sponsorship, rolling their eyes when another old codger from First St. rails against the corporate takeover. Most denizens of the East Village these days are merely looking for more edgy cultural experiences or products, and they seem to become as quickly bored with BMW Guggenheim Blab as I do. But the good folks of Berlin may give them more hell. I hope so.