Theses Doctoral

The spatial and temporal diffusion of museums in New York City, 1910-2010

Kondo, Jennifer Mari

The aim of this dissertation is to understand and analyze the museum location decision, defined as where museum founders choose to establish or relocate their institution. The empirical case is the museum population of New York City from 1910-2010. In three substantive chapters, I explore this complex decision process from the organizational-level, the population-level, and the audience-level. In the first chapter, I argue that the museum location decision has evolved over the past century, and has experienced three major paradigm shifts. Out of each era, a new model of the museum location decision has taken hold, resulting in the current organizational landscape. I demonstrate how these eras emerged through historical, comparative case studies of two New York museums, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In second chapter, I show that the location decisions illustrated through the histories of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art are representative of New York's museum population overall. Using a dataset of all museums that have existed in New York City (and all of those museums' relocations), I chronicle the aggregated movements of the museum population between 1910 and 2010. I argue that the three eras of the museum location decision interacted with key demographic changes to create the unique distribution we observe today. The insights from these findings indicate that the spatial diffusion of museums in New York is systematically patterned in relation to demographic changes. The final substantive chapter is devoted to exploring the possibility that institutional location impacts audience composition. I argue that proximity to museums and other kinds of arts institutions is a significant, yet understudied determinant of attendance. The introduced concept of institutional exposure suggests that local access to arts institutions has cognitive, behavioral, and interactional consequences. Although directly testing the effect of institutional exposure is beyond the parameters of this dissertation, I show that there is a strong correlation between exposure and attendance. I illustrate the increasingly unequal access to arts between white and African American New Yorkers, which correlates highly with still-unexplained low attendance rates of African Americans. The observed evolution of the museum location decision explains when and how New York institutions adopted and then abandoned each institutionalized practice of museum location. In the Conclusion, I highlight several implications of this work, both of sociological theory and on current cultural policy.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bearman, Peter Shawn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2013