Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Restricted Access (SIA Only)

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art Business

First Advisor

Tim Goossens


With each passing year, articles circulate identifying the failures of cultural institutions, specifically museums, in their ability to generate enough revenue to sustain themselves. Since 2015, such institutions include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Berkshire Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Louvre, and several others of great notoriety. And, yet, it begs the question: why are they failing? Several critiques and exposés attempt to point fingers at the administrations of these respective establishments, but the larger question is whether there are systems in place which force them to falter, socially and legally.

The purpose of this thesis is to call into question the way through which American society constrains the role of the museum and, as such, the protections they provide to cultural symbols, effectively leading to their mishandling and mistreatment. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, through the application of communications, rhetoric, law, economics, and popular culture, this research looks not to provide a concrete solution, but to postulate on the issues at hand across the public sphere of the art world, further recognizing that museums are forced to prioritize their attentions on their financial bottom line, not the cultural heritage of their inventories.

Following a methodological format, this thesis first explores the academic and philosophical nature of symbolic language, exploring why art is significantly more impactful than words. Through theories constructed by Gerard Hauser, John Berger, John Dewey, and Kenneth Burke, this conversation is further refined to popular culture through an exploration of the comic book medium as segue into the topic at hand: the contemporary art market. Here, hot button issues analyzed include where museums find funding, whether by the deaccessioning of works or funding through borderline questionable sources in order to finally answer the question: how exactly are cultural symbols mistreated, and why are museums put in a place where they cannot do anything about it?