The Broad: A new Art Museum in the Digital Age

Rich Cherry, Museum Operations, USA

John Cotton Dana said in The New Museum: “The new museum…does not build on an educational superstition. It examines its community’s life first, and then straightway bends its energies to supplying some the material which that community needs, and to making that material’s presence widely known, and to presenting it in such a way as to secure it for the maximum of use and the maximum efficiency of that use.” If we take that suggestion to heart, and bring forth a new art museum into today’s digital culture, into today's all ways on – always connected community that has rapidly adopted digital, mobile and social media tools, what are the things we need to consider? In this closing keynote, Rich will discuss the creation of The Broad art museum in downtown LA and the plans the museum has for using technology in both visitor engagement and efficient operations.

Keywords: new, art, museum, technology

A new Art Museum in the Digital Age

John Cotton Dana said in The New Museum:

“The new museum…does not build on an educational superstition. It examines its community’s life first, and then straightway bends its energies to supplying some the material which that community needs, and to making that material’s presence widely known, and to presenting it in such a way as to secure it for the maximum of use and the maximum efficiency of that use.”1

If we take that suggestion to heart, and bring forth a new art museum into today’s digital culture, into todays always on – always connected community that has rapidly adopted digital, mobile and social media tools, what are the things we need to consider?

Digital in museum is not new. In 1967, an informal grouping of museums in the New York City area established the Museum Computer Network (MCN) with the goal of automating their registration records.2 Nonetheless, the Internet’s coming of age in the 1990s and the social media and mobile revolutions of the 2000’s, and the adoption of both by the general public has driven its adoption in museums. Museums that already existed had to retrofit the infrastructure necessary to support this rapid expansion of digital since museums built during the last century had hardly taken this kind of expansion into account. Older buildings make it hard to add the digital infrastructure and old staffing structures make it hard to add the staffing.

What about new museums opening now or museums expanding or restructuring? What considerations when planning buildings and new staffs should be considered?

Over the past 20 years certain digital areas have emerged and stabilized. Almost all museums consider a website as necessary as a building… in fact many museums lack a building and exist only in the digital realm. Museums with permanent collection often have a database of their entire holdings and often publish this to the web or at a minimum post a selection of highlights on the website. Ticketing and customer relationship management are driven by the need to communicate with visitors, develop members and donors and track interactions. Email, email newsletters, social media and distributed content (like artist videos) have taken over while mailed newsletters and print publications have begun to taper off. Audio tours with proprietary hardware have given way to bring your own device cell phone tours and more recently smart phone and tablet applications. Phone systems have shifted from dedicated wired devices to Voice over IP and to bring your own mobile and some organizations have migrated to telecommunication applications like Skype leapfrogging even VOIP phones. Security cameras with VHS tapes and key based security systems have also shifted to digital with Digital Video Recorders and Video over IP and RFID based keycards and bio metrics. A relatively new system in the museum digital ecosystem is the Digital Asset Management System which consists of a set of software tools that are used for the ingestion, tagging, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital content such as digital photographs, audio and videos to other systems. Backups and disaster recovery has moved from tape, to near line storage to cloud backup and archiving systems. Last but not least, some early adopters are working with the ideas of loyalty systems and gamification to enhance engagement, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and Learning Management Systems to teach web visitors and more recently staff as well as venturing into cloud services, digital signage and e-paper labels.

The Broad

The Broad is a new contemporary art museum being built by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The museum, which is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, will open to the public in 2015. The museum will be home to the nearly 2,000 works of art in The Broad Art Foundation and the Broads’ personal collections, which are among the most prominent holdings of postwar and contemporary art worldwide. With its innovative “veil-and-vault” concept, the 120,000-square-foot, $140 million building will feature two floors of gallery space to showcase The Broad’s comprehensive collections and will be the headquarters of The Broad Art Foundation’s worldwide lending library.

As The Broad is being built we are not only interested in the physical space but also in digital space and thus we are active in all the areas outlined above.


The Broad has launched a state of the art website on Drupal 7 and moved to a new Collection Management system called Embark. Work is underway to create a responsive mobile site for use on the multitude of devices used to access the site. We are also working to deploy a public collection interface that syncs with our collection management.  The Broad uses cloud based hosting services and cloud based backup with geographic diversity.

Mobile App

In addition to our mobile website we are planning a mobile app system for the iPhone and Android platforms that is location and contextually aware. Imagine an app that knows where you are and acts accordingly:

  • At home it offers you:
    • museum hours,
    • page to reserve timed tickets, buy event tickets, and buy tickets to other venues, parking and fine dinning
    • saved content in your reading/listening/viewing queue
    • nearby attractions
    • neighborhood dining options
  • In front of the museum it offers you:
    • museum hours,
    • your ticket (or an option to reserve timed tickets, buy event tickets, and buy tickets to other venues, parking and fine dining)
    • a tour planning feature
    • nearby attractions
    • neighborhood dining options
  • In the lobby it offers you:
    • Indoor map
    • your ticket (or an option to buy tickets)
    • the indoor architecture tour
    • an audio tour of the collection pieces in the lobby
    • upcoming events including a tour of the storage area
  • In the gallery it offers you:
    • Indoor map
    • your ticket (or an option to buy tickets)
    • audio stops from various tours related to the artworks nearest to you
    • the ability to send high resolution images to social media
    • access to related art works that may be in storage or online
    • related content to add to your reading/listening/viewing queue
  • in your car it offers you:
    • Broad for the road.. long format audio pod cast to listen to in the car

The Broad is also creating a thoughtful plan for mobile ticketing point of sale to improve guest service.

Guests will meet a Broad guest services staff near the entrance to the museum. This staff person will check to see if the guest is pre-registered for a free timed ticket and if not provide them with the next available ticket and also provide them with parking validation, tickets for events and other local venues, special deals as well as timed tickets for dinning in our partner restaurant. An additional check will be made upon final entry to the gallery.

While flexibility of customer checkout and line busting are key benefits this plan, allowing guest services staff to better help guests have a smooth and fulfilling visit by highlighting local offerings, or sharing deals on the spot.

Communications and Marketing

The Broad is a digital first environment. Email, email newsletters, social media and distributed content (like artist lecture videos) are the preferred form of outreach. Digital advertisements take precedent over print and broadcast.

Work is underway to tie our email list generation to a cloud based Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) called Salesforce which in turn would be tied to the ticketing and mobile systems. Data generated by actions of the visitor would be used to offer the visitor auto segmented, relevant and timely marketing messaging and offer the staff a holistic view of the visitor’s engagement. For example when someone buys an advance ticket through the ticketing system, their info is then sent to the CRM which would trigger an email to be sent from the email system as reminder about the event… the email is tracked for opening and that info is stored in the CRM.

The Network

A state of the art wired and wireless networking system has been installed in the museum. Every location including outdoors will have a wireless coverage. Our voice over IP phone system supports both traditional phones, desktop clients and mobile app access to incoming and outgoing calls and voice mail. Web content for tour applications are locally cached to limit download times.

Significantly, the museum has run a high speed fiber network to The University of Southern California and has joined the Los Nettos Regional Network. Our gigabit speed network to Los Nettos provides high speed internet access via their dual 10GB public internet connection as well as connections networks such as the state regional network CalREN( California Research and Education Network) to which the vast majority of the state’s K-20 educational institutions are connected, and institutions and industry research networks such as Internet2, high-speed networks in Mexico and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities Networks.

Security and Visitor Management

Our security system with over 125 cameras indoor and outdoor cameras also takes advantage of the advanced network and transmits and stores digital video and audio on digital video recorders (DVR) providing real time detection and documentation. Our DVRs allow video searches by motion, time, date and camera include video analytics software which enable motion detection, ‘virtual alarms on objects’ and even the detection of abandoned bags in the museum via “lack of motion detection”.  Storage systems automatically compresses video based on the desired quality of playback and the desired length of storage. The system automatically clears old video to make room for the newest video on a first in first out schedule. Secure remote access is available over the internet.  Additional sensors record events like breaking glass, key card access, open doors, panic buttons, motion and thermal imaging. Special systems track entry and exit motion using thermal imaging and give us accurate real time counts of visitor attendance by gallery and staff in the museum.

Digital Asset Management

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS) include computer software and hardware systems that aid in the management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets like digital photographs, videos and other digital media. Once deployed our system will integrate with collection management, web based collection access, mobile platforms, learning platforms, digital signage, e-paper systems and DAM marketing and communication workflow needs.

Learning Management Systems

The Broad is developing an online Learning Management System (LMS) training tool for gallery guides and front-of-house staff. Our goal is to build a robust, core training environment that will support training at least 100 individuals with diverse background and experiences in service, hospitality, contemporary art, and museum education to be the front line staff of the museum. As we ramp up to open the museum the first stage of the LMS rollout would be to require applicants to complete an initial training module and complete online tests as well as to upload a video of themselves taking about an artwork that they learned about. Applicants that are successful with this would then have onsite interviews. Once hired staff would be required to complete several additional training modules before they are ready to go into the galleries.

The online Broad Training System will be built around a tiered-approach which motivates staff to:

  • enhance and broaden a set of professional skills
  • acquire deeper art knowledge
  • increase their ability to self-manage

Incentives for progression through this tiered system include:

  • increases in compensation
  • promotion to a higher tier
  • earning badges or some form non-tangible recognition
  • ability to give tours

Progression through each tier of the system will ensure Broad gallery staff are practiced, knowledgeable, and able to engage visitors and using their personal tablet they can provide more than information about the art and archtecture. They can provide the same services as lobby staff including providing tickets to a lecture about an artist that the visitor has taken and interest in, tickets to local institution or being able to add points to their loyalty card. This is more than normal museum gallery staffit  like the museum version of a concierge service at 5 start hotel. Training will meet institutional needs for staffing and visitor relations. It will also provide staff with motivation and opportunities to refine understanding and experience in museum education, audience engagement, and team management.

Training modules will include but are not limited to Customer service, Engagement, Emergency/Crisis management, how people learn, teamwork as well as specific art knowledge about the collection.

The Broad sees a number of opportunities for collaboration with contemporary art organizations and education and culture-focused organizations nationally, including MCA Chicago, Google Cultural Institute, Coursera, Khan Academy as well as other potential partnerships,

E-paper labels

The Broad in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art at Chicago is exploring the use of E-paper labels in the galleries and the potential for engagement that is possible with dynamic wall text, be it for a special children’s treasure hunt tour, large text for  tour with visually impaired guests, dynamically displaying tweets, temporary content , an artist intervention or some use yet to be defined. With the recent release of new e-paper technology that claims 300 dpi resolution with the similar low power of existing E-paper systems. We are exploring first the ability for art museums to create E-paper wall labels that do not look particularly technology based, i.e. they cannot easily be noticed when used with regular print labels. This involves industrial design and testing of the graphic quality of the screen. Next we will explore the systems we need to drive multiple screens in a museum environment and how to tie the screens back to the collection information system and then finally explore the ability to allow visitor interaction with the labels via a smartphone or other interface.

Loyalty Systems and Gamification

In 2012, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) launched an effort to transparently and continuously monitor the long-term engagement of visitors with the museum. Dubbed DMA Friends, the approach emphasizes the repeat participation of visitors with the museum’s collections and programs, offering customized rewards in return for frequent engagement.3  The Broad, like many other free museums including the DMA, is interested in the data that can be collected and how it can assist in making information available to repeat visitors in a contextual way as well as reinforcing engagement and learning.  We are exploring the creation a simple loyalty system as part of our app deployment which would generate points for repeat visitation, event attendance, partner visitation and cultural engagement overall.

Digital Signage

The Broad is also exploring digital signage opportunities for Digital Signage in its lobby where its curved walls would take particular advantage of new curved LCD technology as well as in outdoor areas near the museum.


When The Broad opens in 2015 it will exhibit many contemporary artworks by living artists. As a collection it has a simple legacy of being one of the most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art in the world and as a pioneering lending library of contemporary artworks since 1984, dedicated to increasing access to contemporary art for audiences worldwide, the foundation has made more than 8,000 loans to over 500 museums and galleries around the world.

With this a new 120,000 square feet (11,100 square meter) museum featuring 50,000 sq ft (4650 square meters ) of pubic galleries opening in 2015, The Broad has the opportunity to create a new legacy as a contemporary art museum that connects with its global community and focuses its energies to provide what that community needs, on their terms and to efficiently making public access to its collections onsite, through loans and online pervasively available. What more could John Cotton Dana ask for?


  1. Dana, John Cotton. The New Museum (Woodstock, VT: The Elm Tree Press, 1917), 32.
  2. Misunas M. and Urban, R. (2007) “A Brief History of the Museum Computer Network,” written for the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences. Consulted September 20, 2014. Available
  3. Stein and B. Wyman, “Seeing the Forest and the Trees: How Engagement Analytics Can Help Museums Connect to Audiences at Scale.” In Museums and the Web 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published February 1, 2014. Consulted September 27, 2014 .

Cite as:
R. Cherry, The Broad: A new Art Museum in the Digital Age. In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published September 28, 2014. Consulted .