Since the Broad opened in September in downtown Los Angeles, my wife and I have enjoyed watching how the public has embraced the museum and the art.
Museums can be intimidating places, with their big front desks separating people from museum staff, their guards keeping a watchful eye on the art, and their tours and brochures that seem geared to experts instead of everybody.
The visitors at the Broad seem the opposite of intimidated. They’re excited. They can laugh about the art, or take a selfie with it, or stare at it for as long or as little as they want. They seem to take joy in it, and it’s a lot easier to learn and be inspired when you’re happy. They’re also incredibly diverse – our audience deeply reflects our region. More than seven in 10 of our visitors are under the age of 34, and six out of 10 identify as nonwhite. They come from all socioeconomic classes, with nearly one in five earning less than $20,000 a year.
Museums across the country are gradually becoming institutions that truly serve everyone, not just the elite. I am proud that the Broad is part of that trend, and I hope it continues, with Los Angeles leading the way.
Back in the 1970s, Los Angeles was one of the few leading cities in North America that lacked a contemporary art museum. We set out to remedy that, and in 1979, I joined with then-Mayor Tom Bradley and other city and civic leaders to build the Museum of Contemporary Art. Since that time, Los Angeles has emerged as a world leader in contemporary art. Today, we are home to more contemporary art gallery space than any other city in the United States.
And people are flocking to see it. From MOCA to the Hammer to LACMA, this region has captivated the attention of Angelenos and art lovers from around the world. Since opening in September, the Broad has welcomed more than a half-million visitors, far exceeding our expectations.
With free general admission to all, a welcoming atmosphere, and a central location, the Broad has attracted a more racially and socioeconomically diverse audience than museums tend to see, and they are taking in our art collection in their own way. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand the selfie thing at first. Instead of facing an artwork and taking in its power, I kept seeing visitors turn around and pose in front of the art instead.
A visitor services associate – one of our team of about 100 who serve as guides to and guards of the art – gave me an interesting perspective. She said that today’s youth are driven to share their experiences, to capture them and then relive memorable moments every time they look at that photo. And she made the case that those visitors might have a greater appreciation of the artwork by sharing it with friends and family and by appreciating it over and over.
By understanding and accepting the different ways people interact with art, museums can become more welcoming and more relevant to diverse audiences.
Beyond drawing people to museums, the arts have also helped spur a civic, cultural, and economic renaissance downtown. Bunker Hill was an empty plot of land before the Music Center brought it theater, before MOCA gave it art, before Disney Hall created a beautiful new home for the symphony, before Grand Park invited audiences to free performances and before the Broad opened its doors. Restaurants and housing now line Grand Avenue, and more are in the works in the next phase of the Grand Avenue Project.
As a city, we need to make sure our cultural institutions continue to attract everyone who lives in Los Angeles. I encourage private collectors to share their treasures with the public. The joy of sharing a great work of art with hundreds of thousands or even millions of people is immeasurable. I encourage museums to welcome all communities, visitors of all ages and from all backgrounds, and to partner with schools and community centers to make art a dialogue that extends beyond the walls of a museum and into the neighborhoods where artists and audiences live, work, create, and play.
Only then will museums fulfill their fundamental mission to serve the public.
Eli Broad is co-founder with his wife, Edythe, of the Broad. He is also founding chairman and life trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and life trustee of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
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