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How The Broad trains its staff may change your experience of the art

by Gideon Brower | The Frame

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Members of The Broad's Visitor Services staff will have to make sure no one tries to climb this untitled sculpture by Robert Therrien that greets visitors at the north entrance of the museum. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Last May, The Broad (yes, that's what they're calling the museum) advertised for Visitor Services Associates: part-time staff who would greet and assist the public. The job listing asked applicants to upload videos of themselves saying why they’d want to work at the museum, and how they might approach a patron who was standing too close to a valuable artwork.

More than 500 people responded. Students, artists, actors, TV producers and retirees all recorded videos saying why they wanted to work at the new museum. And how they’d ask someone – very politely – to back off.

New Visitor Services Associates at The Broad. From L-R: Maggie Smith, Joseph De La Hay, Sabrina Gizzo and Trinity Singer (Credit: Gideon Brower) 

Lauren Girard is Associate Director of Visitor Services at The Broad. She used the videos to winnow down the applicant pool, and then hired 85 people to serve as the front-line staff of the museum. The newly minted Visitor Services Associates will be on duty when the museum opens on Sept. 20. Alex Capriotti, The Broad’s Director of Marketing and Communications, says the group will handle several jobs at once.  

“A lot of museums do have separate staffs in gallery security, in visitor education about artwork, and ticketing,” Capriotti says. “What we really wanted to do was have one body of staff that’s trained in everything.”

That means a Visitor Services Associate might start the day working outside as a greeter, then move to ticketing, and then take up a station in one of the galleries.

Lauren Girard designed the training program for the new staff.

Lauren Girard, Associate Director of Visitor Services at The Broad (L) and Alex Capriotti Director of Marketing and Communications (Credit: Gideon Brower)

“It’s really just being available,” Girard says. “You’d want to ask, Where are you visiting from? How can I help you?

The staff will carry tablet computers to help them give driving directions or suggest restaurants. If that level of service sounds more suited to a hotel or a high-end boutique, that’s no accident. Girard worked for years in retail sales before coming to The Broad.

“Really, it’s not just being able to meet customer’s needs," she says, "but it’s really being able to anticipate them and to be able to deliver on things they didn’t even realize they needed."

If those things include a chat about the artwork, the trainees have that covered, too.  

Sabrina Gizzo is one of the associates who’ve spent the past two months working their way through a self-guided survey of the 113 artists represented in the opening exhibition. She says there’s a separate study module for each artist.

“It’ll let you know what their ideas were behind their artwork,” Gizzo says. “Best of all, we have these videos that have interviews with the artist.”

And that original question? How do you handle someone standing too close to an artwork, or taking flash photos, or snacking? Girard puts her faith in something called “the authority of the resource.” It’s a rhetorical technique she says is popular with park rangers.

“Without making a value judgment, without saying you’re not allowed to do something, you just acknowledge what the person is doing: I noticed that you wanted to take a photo with the flash on— what you may not realize is that the flash can actually damage pigments in a photograph,” Girard says.  

And if they don’t want to cooperate?  

“I’ve actually never had anyone try to fight the technique,” Girard says.

One more thing that sets the Broad staff apart from the guards you usually see in museum galleries: no blue polyester blazers. Visitors Services Associates can wear whatever they want, as long as it’s all black.

New Visitor Services Associates at The Broad Antoine Girard (L) and Kim Orendor — dressed in all black of course. (Credit: Gideon Brower) 

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