Brushing Up: A Conversation with Michael Darling, Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer of Museum Exchange

In the ever-evolving landscape of art philanthropy, individuals and organizations are constantly exploring innovative ways to bridge the gap between collectors and museums. Michael Darling is at the forefront of this movement. Museum Exchange is the first digital platform for art donations, empowering collectors to donate art to museums across North America. This revolutionary end-to-end platform offers unprecedented choice, ease and impact for philanthropic giving, while helping museums diversify their collections and donor bases. Founded by museum veterans, Museum Exchange’s mission is to unlock philanthropy nationwide, simplify the donation process, and shine a spotlight on under-recognized artists. I had the privilege of engaging in a brief q-and-a with Michael to gain insight into his work and the broader world of philanthropy. Read on and dive deeper into Museum Exchange on LinkedIn.

🤩 What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

“I really enjoy helping out museums by donating art, especially when it comes to artists who didn’t get the credit they deserved when they were alive. It’s great to see these often unknown talents finally getting the recognition they should have had. Equally thrilling is helping the heirs of the artists successfully find a fitting museum for their cherished collection.

Ethel Fisher is a great example. Her family had her collection in storage, and we were able to secure her work in several museum collections, and build her place in art history.”

🌟 What is one way arts leaders can enhance their impact? OR what are the top qualities you see in successful arts leaders?

“They have to define their audience, care about their audience, and serve their audience. Everyone has unique skills; arts leaders have to be hardworking, kind people who take initiative.”

💡 What is the greatest need facing your organization and/or the arts today?

 “A recognition of the strained bandwidth for arts workers. As we reach out to different museums and offer them free art, sometimes they don’t have the staff to process the gifts, because they’re doing so many things already for day to day. A recently published study by Museums Moving Forward showed that two-thirds of art museum workers are thinking about leaving their jobs, if not the field altogether, and that low pay and burnout are the top reasons. It makes me think of how much they’re asking of staff, maybe to rethink the museum capacity of their team. There’s so much emphasis on growth – a more corporate mentality – but there’s really something to doing something well, rather than getting bigger.

Also, museums are trying to diversify the artists in their collections as well as their staff. There is a strong demand for women artists and artists of color – as museums try to shift their collections that are still predominantly white and male. We are really trying to get artwork that satisfies their concerns.”

🌈 Why is making art accessible important?

“Because otherwise it becomes insular, exclusionary, and ultimately irrelevant. If artists themselves are only talking to a small group of insiders, it’s easy to shrink your worldview and have this conversation become very insular where only some people understand what you’re talking about. As a result, when you go out to the community, why would they care if they’re not part of the conversation? Striking a balance of making art that speaks to art history, with art that also talks about issues that are important to people in their everyday lives, is key. If we want the arts to be supported, we’ve got to prove that it can actually offer something to their everyday lives. So, be more expansive,  and bring more people into it.”

💫 Closing Thoughts

Michael Darling’s work at Museum Exchange serves as a testament to the transformative power of art philanthropy. Through such innovative platforms, we can redefine how art is shared, celebrated, and preserved, ultimately making the arts more accessible to all. As I reflect on Michael’s pioneering work, I wonder:

🌍 How can we contribute and harness the power of philanthropy to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access and be inspired by the arts?

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IG: @sallery_art

Brushing Up: pathways in arts leadership