Arnold L. Lehman
Director, Brooklyn Museum
Since joining the Brooklyn Museum in 1997, Dr. Arnold Lehman has transformed the nearly 200-year-old museum by prioritizing the visitor experience, diversifying and expanding audiences, re-envisioning the permanent collections, and organizing an enormous range of highly regarded traditional and non-traditional special exhibitions. One of these shows, Sensation: Young British Artists, led to a highly publicized court case reported around the world in which the museum prevailed. Major capital projects have included a celebrated new front entrance and plaza designed by Polshek Partnership; the creation of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the centerpiece of which is The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago; new contemporary art galleries; and a massive climate control program.
Last year, a record number of 80,000 visitors attended our Target First Saturdays, a monthly free evening of art and entertainment. First Saturdays, now in its tenth year, is a prime example of the museum’s goal of engaging new, racially diverse, and younger visitors. By demystifying the museum experience, Brooklyn has engaged hundreds of thousands of visitors who had never been in a museum. The enormously lively 9-11 p.m. dance party and the exhibition galleries are overflowing, as are the art-making programs for families, dance performances, lectures, and films.
Every museum initiative—
including our mission statement—focuses on the visitor experience; every aspect of Brooklyn’s far-ranging curatorial and educational activities is designed to speak directly to visitors, to let them feel that they are represented within our vast collection.
One of the most successful tools in building our new constituencies was the wholehearted adoption of new technologies: an interactive web site in which visitors can “tag” images of collection objects, exceptional blogging by staff members who invite and respond to comments, online exhibitions submitted and selected by web visitors, documentation of installations on YouTube, a new membership category on-line, cell phone-based exhibition and collection tours, and constant experimentation with every new media available.
The average age of visitors—now 35—dropped 20+ years in the past 10; more than 45% of our visitors are people of color. And to further our visitor experience goals, a massive multi-year climate control project has given us the rare opportunity to re-envision the presentation of our renowned permanent collections from a 21st-century, global perspective, which reinforces our temporary exhibition and educational programs. Our educational and curatorial staff is wholly committed to this new way of thinking.
The Brooklyn Museum and cultural organizations worldwide have recently experienced extraordinary economic challenges. With the support of our dedicated trustees and outstanding staff, the Brooklyn Museum will continue to take the risks necessary to create new and highly engaged audiences while protecting and enhancing our great collections for the future.