First Lady Michelle Obama held a fundraiser at the Walker Art Center this past Friday, raising over $90,000 for Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. This, despite the Walker Art Center's policy that it won't rent out any of its space to political events.
Most museums—and universities—don't throw political fundraisers for Republicans or Democrats for reasons that are probably self-evident: there's a fifty-fifty chance they'll pay the price if the opposing party is elected. SFMoMA, LA MOCA, and MoMA/MoMA PS1 are just a few of the bigger names that refrain from renting out their spaces for any political cause.
So why is the Walker standing out from the crowd? I spoke with Christopher James, Associate Director of Public Relations at the Walker Art Center, who told me that Friday's political fundraiser was in keeping with the museum's policies.
“Political events can be permitted here if it is a completely private, invitation-only situation that is not open to the general public.”
It appears that Obama's reelection campaign fundraiser took place due to a technicality. Still, Friday's fundraiser for Obama was open to the public and tickets for the event were available for purchase on President Obama's website.
Further clarification was provided by Phillip Bahar, Chief of Operations and Administration, who mentioned that although this was the first political fundraiser held at the Walker during his tenure, the museum has hosted partisan events. During the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul, delegates held meetings at the museum.
Regardless of the official response from the Walker's PR department, the Walker's choice to host a fundraising event for President Obama's reelection campaign is striking. The Walker has thrown implicit support to a candidate who champions the arts, and by doing so, they've stood up for the participation of art institutions within the political process.
I'll be interested to see if, over the several months leading up to the election, other museums take up a political stance. After all, these events help shape the future.