Observed: an unlikely solution finds an improbable solution
Proposed: that we can give an account of the network that connects them
Yesterday: the transition from stage 1 to stage 2
Today: stages 2 through 5
The transition from stage 2 to stage 3 is pretty clear cut. Real estate magnates read The New Yorker and they know an investment opportunity when they see one.
The magnate put up $400,000 to fund the Chudnovsky brothers. In return, he got at least at least one mention in The New Yorker, a philanthropic project that differentiated him from other real estate magnets (of whom there are, I believe, several in NYC), elevated standing in the social world of NYC, a claim to “getting and supporting what is peculiarly New York about New York. (I am making assumptions about the magnates motives. I apologize if these are unfounded, diminishing or unduly Machiavellian. ((Hey, if you want a rosy view of human nature, stay away from the dismal sciences.))
In sum, the magnate converted $400,000 into a pretty substantial body of social and cultural capital. We cant do this calculation precisely. But there is a PR expert somewhere who could assess the ROI with a fair degree of accuracy. (How else do PR firms decide what to charge?) At the very least, the investment brought him: more profile, more invitations, broader social access, higher social access, and finally a larger business network. This, in turn, gives him access to more and loftier real estate deals. This, in turn, will improve the financial resources with which he can fund subsequent philanthropic “gestures that the spiral may continue upward.
Many investors pay much more for much less. Museum sponsorship can be much more expensive and receive no reference in the New Yorker or word of mouth treatment. Below, I have included a passage from my new book that describes the more traditional bargain.
Now how does the magnate collect his social and cultural capital? It is not enough to make the philanthropic gift, one must be seen to make the philanthropic gift. Mention in The New Yorker is one way of doing this. Another is showing the Chudnovsky brothers off at a Manhattan soiree. Thus have patrons always harvested the investment. Thus have clients always been obliged to “sing for their supper. Patrons compete and sometimes trump other patrons when they show off their clients. Patrons impress status non combatants when they show off their clients. Patrons draw in other would-be clients by showing off their clients. Getting the Chudnovsky brothers to show up for a soiree was very good for business. (And it doesnt matter that their heads are teeming with numbers, racing off in pursuit, say of pi. Really, they just had to turn up.)
In the transition from stage 3 to 4, the ROI soiree model holds with one small difference. When the hedge fund manager shows off the Chudnovsky brothers at his soiree, he is leveraging the magnates accomplishment. He is cutting himself in on a piece of the action. For this evening, he too is a patron of the life of the mind. Why is this ok? Why should he help himself to the anthropological consequences of the magnates beneficience? Its ok because he is staging his friend, the magnates, generosity. Now the investment is being put to work in the world. It is being lent out. (Is this something the actor understands? Oh, something tells me a hedge fund manager could work it out.)
Little does the fund manager know he plays a much larger role in our network. For he is a MET patron, and this entitles him to cameo appearances from MET curators. Thus does he let the world know of his philanthropy. As it happens, the evening that he invites Chudnovsky brothers, he also invites a curator who happens both to know about the Unicorn problem and to have a wife who is teaches math.
And now we move from stage 4 to stage 5. And wouldnt we like to have been there when the penny dropped. When asked what they did for a living the Chudnovsky brothers probably said something conversation-stopping like, “oh, we calculate pi. All eyes glazed over except those of the curators wife, who released finally from the tedium of these events, said, “really? with an intensity of feeling that quite took the brothers aback. And it wasnt long before the brothers were gazing upon the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries and supplying a solution that was otherwise permanently, structurally, beyond the problem solving powers of even a museum as mighty as the MET.
Geez, this is taking way too long. Tomorrow, then, the thrilling conclusion to the mystery of “networks in expanding cultural spaces.
Excerpt from Culture and Consumption II
Museums also have had long, intricate relationships with local families of high standing. These families supply precious resources: social authority, cultural capital, and political influence. They have offered their children as curators, their spouses as volunteers, their matriarchs and patriarchs as board members, patrons and donors. They have made the museum a repository of material culture (e.g., china, furniture, art and silver) that has helped define their status in the community (Warner, Low, Lunt and Srole, 1963, p. 107).
The relationship is not asymmetrical. Status flows to these families as it does from them. In the crudest case, the museum will trade social standing for infusions of cash. In effect, it launders wealth so that a “new family may become (or begin to become) an “old family. Normally, the exchange is more complicated and more delicate. Museum and family seek a balance in their exchange. There are many currencies in the exchange: money, events, names and naming, objects, prestige, standing, and influence of several varieties. What is given and what is got are calculated with some care. The bargainers seek a rough sense of parity (when an exquisite one is not possible).
Inevitably, there are asymmetries. Some families rank so high they must necessarily give more status to the museum than they get. Others rank sufficiently low they must always get status more than they give. All of this requires careful calculation about what is owned to whom, and someone on staff capable of making them. In a robust status community, the museum is simultaneously a participant in, an arbiter for, a contributor to, and a beneficiary of the process by which status is reckoned and apportioned. (I appreciate that this “exchange model of the relationship between families and the museum does not always square with the familys point of view. Many families see their contributions to the museum as “free gifts offered in the classic tradition of liberality and not because of the consequences that may follow from the act of giving (Kelso 1929).)