As you’ve been reading, ASK Brooklyn Museum isn’t just about an app—it’s an initiative that seeks to re-envision our visitor experience from top to bottom. That “top” starts at our plaza and continues to our lobby and throughout the building. Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about various ideas—learnings from the Apple store, how to create an entry experience where the focus is on people, how we greet you, and why the ASK team should be a part of it—but today I’ll talk a little about our hopes and dreams for the lobby as a flexible space that works to better incorporate the most important thing for a museum—more art.
If you looked at our entry experience today, I think you’d find it lacks focus. We have an amazingly beautiful building and an enormously successful front plaza that draws people acting as a front porch for our community. We see people, especially now in the incredibly nice weather, using it to lounge, gather, and play. We offer free wifi in case you want to sit and work, but have you noticed something missing? There’s no art. Arguably, our fountain is designed by WET, so we could consider that an artful experience, but while many museums have art installed before you enter, we don’t.
As you move into the lobby proper, we’ve got a similar issue going on. There are some works on view in our lobby—notably our collection of Rodin sculptures, our American owls and lion, and The Rebel Angels. But, overall, when you come into our main lobby your experience is overwhelmingly one about “transaction.” Our current visitor desk is the biggest and most powerful symbol in the entry experience of the museum and we started to question what kind of message that was sending. Our incredibly successful introductory exhibition, Connecting Cultures, only begins after you pass the threshold of ticketing and then pretty far into the building itself. I’ve often used this analogy in my own industry…our entry experience is a little like “three clicks to the art” and if the museum’s primary function is the display of art, that’s a big issue—simply put, we think you should experience art much more quickly in your experience because that is the primary function of why you come here.
When we looked around, it was clear that we needed to rethink that central desk. Installed during our 2004 renovation, the round desk was meant to service visitors from our south and north entrances equally, but in practice it became confusing to visitors who didn’t know how to orient themselves. Also, it became clear that because we couldn’t move it or change the configuration, we couldn’t easily accommodate more art—the desk became the elephant in the room.
As part of this project, we are replacing the current desk with ticket bars designed by Situ Studio. At our June start, we’ll be anchoring the ticket bars to our back wall, so we can pair it with large wayfinding signage, but the key is we can pretty easily change that configuration if it’s not working; something the fixed desk never afforded us. This means we can also now incorporate more art and do so in a way that makes it more central to the visitor experience.
There are so many factors when it comes to putting art in our lobby. For this, I’m turning to Kevin Stayton, our Chief Curator:
Bringing art and people together is why we are here. Art can astonish and amuse; it can be stimulating and it can be moving. We think you should encounter art as soon as you enter the building. However, we have to balance the presentation of art in the lobby with a number of other factors: Will the artwork get in the way of traffic flow or, perhaps, be in danger because of it? Will it infringe on our ability to offer programs in the space, or to use the space for events like movie shoots? And, perhaps most important, does the space provide the right environment for the art? Will the work of art look good in such a large space and will it be safe from damage with the amount of light and the temperature fluctuations of a lobby environment? These are complicated questions that we are committed to tackling in order to make the experience of art an immediate one when you arrive. We think ALONG THE WAY, a monumental sculpture by the artist KAWS will be a perfect introduction to the Brooklyn Museum, and when you see it we hope you will too.
When you come into our lobby in June, you’ll find an exhibition by KAWS, which includes two paintings in addition to this enormous sculpture, to greet you. We’re now much closer to “one click to the art” and can’t wait to see how art in all its forms changes the visitor experience from the get go.
Shelley Bernstein is the former Vice Director of Digital Engagement & Technology at the Brooklyn Museum where she spearheaded digital projects with public participation at their center. In the most recent example—ASK Brooklyn Museum—visitors ask questions using their mobile devices and experts answer in real time. She organized three award-winning projects—Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition, Split Second: Indian Paintings, GO: a community-curated open studio project—which enabled the public to participate in the exhibition process.
Shelley was named one of the 40 Under 40 in Crain's New York Business and her work on the Museum's digital strategy has been featured in the New York Times.
In 2016, Shelley joined the staff at the Barnes Foundation as the Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives and Chief Experience Officer.