Making a More Modern Prado

Mark Roglan, director of SMU's Meadows Museum, talks about the positive changes at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

By George Stolz

The Spanish economy, as the world knows, is mired in recession, with a collapsed real-estate market, a shaky banking system, and an unemployment rate nearing 30 percent. Every level of government is strapped for cash; austerity measures continue to be implemented across the public sector; and in a nation where nearly all cultural institutions are dependent on government funding, the arts have been particularly hard hit. Some museums are having to deal with 70 percent cuts in their operating budgets.
Not even Madrid’s venerable Prado Museum has emerged unscathed: in recent years the Spanish Ministry of Culture’s contribution to the museum’s €38 million ($51 million) annual budget has been halved, from €22 million ($29 million) in 2010 to €11 million ($14.5 million) in 2013. Yet despite the cuts, the Prado has managed to adapt, obtaining new sources of funding and scaling back some projects while maintaining others. It has achieved record attendance, with nearly 3 million visitors per year. In all, it’s a delicate balancing act for which the museum’s director, Miguel Zugaza, is widely credited.

The 49-year-old Zugaza—tall, disarmingly suave, and overtly proud of his Basque heritage—has presided at the helm of the museum since 2002. During this period, the Prado has experienced physical and administrative changes unparalleled in its 200-year history: it rewrote its administrative statutes in 2003, radically changing its internal operations, and in 2007, added a Rafael Moneo–designed extension that increased its size by 50 percent. It has also added key new departments and modernized its operations, with a development office; expanded press and public relations programs; a well-functioning website; extended opening hours; a world-class conservation studio; and a high-level education program. And, it has introduced modern and contemporary shows to its hallowed exhibition halls....

Mark Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a former curator at the Prado, agrees. “The Prado has become a completely different place under Miguel,” according to Roglán. “He’s like a great orchestra director; he knows how to talk to everyone, the politicians, the administrators, the curators, the educators. He gets the best out of all of them—and he gets what he wants, too.”...