If the museum's publicity has the function of structuring popular identification with bourgeois privacy, it does so first simply through the museum's visibility and accessibility: open "on a regularly scheduled basis," it offers up what was formerly the content of homes to public display. Second, as "a nonprofit tax-exempt organization," often with direct municipal subsidy, the museum imposes popular investment in itself, inasmuch as the museum comes to that population already with the population's economic support. Third, on this, the museum's real "debt" to the public, is superimposed a symbolic debt of the public to it: a debt produced by the philanthropic gestures of the patrons who provide it with much more visible support. The museum thus draws a population into a cultural contract, obliging that population to make itself "worthy" of capital's gifts. Finally, after indebting a population to it and thereby obliging that population to enter it, the museum offers to it, as its own, what it has already turned into "public" culture.
If culture consists of the narratives, symbolic objects, and practices, with which a particular group represents its interests and its experience, its history and possible futures, fine art represents the interests and experiences first of the professional community of primarily middle-class artists who produce it, and second of the bourgeois patrons who collect it and re-present it in museums which their names alongside those of its producers. The museum, as a public institution, offers up fine art as a general public culture, a national or even universal civic culture, and turns it into the single cultural currency that can be traded by members of the civic community. The museum's patrons are represented as being in primary and privileged possession of this cultural currency, while all of the symbolic objects produced outside of the specialized sphere of publicized artistic activity are banished to the oblivion of individual lives, without authority to represent "public" experience.
from Museum Highlights