In a new paper for the Legatum Institute, Dorothy Kosinski, Director of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC and Legatum Institute Global Fellow, explores why the humanities are an important contributor to prosperous societies.
The paper was launched at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC on Monday 27 January 2014.
Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 essay on The Gospel of Wealth makes a moral and social evolutionary argument for the distribution of wealth, based on individual choice, to support “enlightenment and joys of the mind, [to] the things of the spirit”.  Carnegie envisaged a proper life with three stages: 1) to be educated 2) to make money and 3) to give it away. He insisted upon the importance of culture in advancing education and the moral obligation of the wealthy to invest in the future of society. As he stated to Congress in 1915: “My business is to do as much good as I can”. Carnegie’s legacy is found in libraries, universities and museums, as well as an endowment to foster ethics and world peace.
Carnegie’s essay is a perfect point of departure for this discussion. It touches on a palette of arguments about the importance of culture—from the intrinsic to instrumental—the same ideas that drive our policy discussions today at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Buffeted by the current economic crisis, cultural institutions clamour to justify their existence with reasons ranging from their intrinsic worth and their sense of civic responsibility, to numbers of jobs produced, to their impact on urban neighbourhoods, to better exam scores and to evidence of increased creativity, innovation and well-being. These debates play out in philosophical texts and scholarly symposia about the fate of humanities disciplines, on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and Le Monde, in the boardrooms of museums and performing arts institutions, in the halls of the US Congress and Department of Education, and in the realm of higher education policy in the UK. This essay will survey and illuminate key discussions and ideas, common to libraries, museums, performing arts organisations and the humanities disciplines, all faced with similar challenges and opportunities. I shall traverse this vast terrain of culture by focusing on my own area of expertise in art history, visual culture and museums, and the rich literature of those particular entities.
About the Author
Dorothy Kosinski is a Legatum Institute Global Fellow. Since 2008, she has been
the Director of The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art,
located in Washington, DC.
Prior to her appointment, Dorothy worked at the Dallas Museum of Art, where
she served in a number of capacities from 1995 to 2008, last as Senior Curator of
Painting and Sculpture. Dorothy earlier served as an independent curator of major
exhibitions for the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, the Kunstmuseum Basel, The National
Gallery in Prague, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
She is a specialist in 19th and 20th-century art and has curated exhibitions on Joseph
Cornell, Gustave Courbet, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg and
Vincent van Gogh. She has also written on a variety of topics, including 19th century
Symbolism, Dada, Surrealism, 20th-century sculpture and contemporary art. In
August 2013 Dr. Kosinski was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National
Council on the Humanities. She currently serves on the Board of the Association of Art
Museum Directors and the Advisory Board of The Musée Rodin, Paris.
She received her BA from Yale University, and her MA and PhD degrees from the
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.