The Blue Ribbon Presents: Leaders in the Arts Panel

What do five museum directors talk about when they’re in front of 168 of the biggest donors in town? The two Ds—diversity and the digital age

The last time The Blue Ribbon ladies got together it was beneath the Space Shuttle Endeavour at The California Science Center to talk space and the Center’s plans for the shuttle in 2015. This time, the charitable support group met at The Music Center (where they’ve raised $73 mil to date) to participate in a discussion between LACMA Director Michael Govan, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden President Dr. Steven S. Koblik, Hammer Museum Director Ann Philbin, J. Paul Getty Museum Director Dr. Timothy Potts, and MOCA Director Philippe Vergne. The discussion was led by Earl A. Powell III, who is the Director of the National Gallery of Art (he was also LACMA’s director from 1980 to 1992) and centered the ways in which diversity and the current digital landscape will affect the art institutions in 2015. Here is what the cultural leaders had to say:

Diversity and the Museum

Michael Govan (LACMA): “Institutions are young in the United States and younger still in Los Angeles…L.A. is youngest and yet has been experiencing this massive growth and change. There’s this saying about L.A. and California, As L.A. goes or California goes so goes the world just sooner. In the case of diversity, I think that is exactly the case. This is the most diverse city on earth right now, and for me the key to that is diversifying our staffs.”

Ann Philbin (The Hammer): “You have to really concentrate on diversifying the staff and the boards of our institutions, and I think those are really, really hard things to do…the place where we are having some success is the diversification in our audience…we have an Artist’s Council; it’s very active and they kept telling us you have to take what you do out into the community. You can’t expect them to come to you.”

Dr. Timothy Potts (The Getty): “I think programming is absolutely key.”

Philippe Vergne (MOCA): “For me, and I also think it is the nature of our museum, these effort towards diversity needs to go through the voice and the presence of the artists. The program, the curators, the board, the audience and at the center—the artist.”

Dr. Steven S. Koblik (The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens): “In our case our collections are focused. We are not a comprehensive museum…we want to be really good in what we collect…the most dramatic change was the development of the Chinese garden…but when we built the first Chinese garden that was open to the public in California and really an extraordinary expression of classical Chinese art, culture, music, & literature, our institution changed.”

What Does the Digital Age Mean to Some of the Biggest Museums in Los Angeles?

Dr. Timothy Potts (The Getty): “The fundamental responsibility of any museum, of course, is having its collection properly cataloged and accessible…but you can do so much more. And there are interesting ways it can be interactive; you can create your own tours through the collection with handheld devices now.”

Dr. Steven S. Koblik (The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens): “We’re all pushing to figure out ways to use the opportunity the digital world presents in trying to get to our different audiences.”

Philippe Vergne (MOCA): “MOCA had a fantastic, award-winning Web site circa 1997…one of the first things my team has done is to reinvent the Web site and our digital presence…what kind of information can we give [our audience] to stop them in their tracks? The value of our digital presence, I think, is that we can use it to slow time down so people take more time for the art.”

Ann Philbin (The Hammer): “I think the slowing down thing is really essential…the other ways I think that we are very much promoting the slow down thing is we have a meditation session at the museum once a week that 250 to 300 people show up to every time…I think that people are finding that the balance of the two things is what they are seeking. I think our institutions really have to figure out where that lies.”

Michael Govan (LACMA): “When I first came to LACMA I handled this discussion with my board about how media and technology are changing the world. Later a trustee raised their hand and said, ‘So why then are you spending millions of dollars planting street lamps and trees and moving 350 ton rocks when you can be on digital media?’ I said, ‘Well, you have to take your Facebook picture from somewhere.’ Place making doesn’t go out of style. Turns out we’re the fourth most Instagrammed museum in the world largely because of those public sculptures.”