Despite a mixed reception by critics, the Dale Chihuly show at the Museum of Fine Arts has been a popular hit. Now, with the exhibit of billowing glasswork set to close Aug. 7, the museum is seeking more than $1 million in donations to add one of the items, Chihuly’s 42-foot-high “Lime Green Icicle Tower,’’ to the museum’s permanent collection.
Raising money online and by text message, in $10 increments, marks a welcome departure from a certain widespread stereotype about stodgy art museums. Institutions like the MFA were ostensibly the domain of elite taste-makers and wealthy donors, who acted as both patrons and gatekeepers. What generations of museum-goers saw on display was perceived to be determined by what their social betters decided was worth seeing.
But some self-appointed cultural arbiters did enrich Boston. The most beautiful example, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, was the creation of a Boston heiress who decorated with a unique combination of artistic styles and genres and eras. The very fact that museums like hers were aloof from popular sentiment is part of what made their collections enduring.
Still, while museums shouldn’t be curated by the crowds, there’s plenty of room for more voices at the table. The MFA should be applauded for seeking unconventional ways to encourage donations - and for bringing more museum-goers into the discussion of what deserves a permanent spot on display.