Selfies in the museum? Some say yay and others say nay
It might be the most unfortunate, expensive and unplanned game of dominoes ever.
As a staffer watches, hands rising to his face in fear, a young woman crouches down in front of a series of sculptures placed on pedestals at Los Angeles' The 14th Factory art exhibit.
Raising her cellphone to take a selfie, the woman appears to stumble, toppling a row of the pedestals holding stylized crowns.
Each crown was valued at around $20,000, according to artist Simon Birch.
In a July 14 Facebook post, Birch stated, “Although we told everyone to be careful, the staff was in conversation with someone at the time and was not paying full attention. … and you've seen the rest. As a nonprofit, we don't have the budget for lots of staff or security.”
The fascination with “selfies” compels many a museum visitor to take a photographic souvenir.
Art in Island, an interactive art museum in the Philippines, is dedicated to people taking selfies with artworks. People wiggle, pose, cram together with friends, perhaps even pretend to touch priceless works of arts as they angle for just the right picture.
It's enough to stop a curator's furiously beating heart.
Regardless, only one regional museum operator — Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, which operates sites in Altoona, Johnstown, Ligonier and Loretto — appears to outright forbid selfies.
Visitors are asked to refrain from selfies, says spokesman Travis Mearns in an email, “to insure the safety of patrons and objects on display.”
“Visitor policies are important to institutions such as ours as they provide guidelines that insure the safety of the objects on view and the comfort of everyone who comes to see them,” curator Scott Dimond says in an email.
Selfies can be taken outside on the museums' lawns, Mearns says.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg promotes selfies, but offers suggestions to ensure the work itself is not damaged.
Its “Art Happens” temporary public art project encourages people to visit replicated images from its collection placed around the city and take selfies with them.
The museum took to Twitter earlier this year to invite visitors to participate in “Museum Selfie Day.” The online campaign encourages people to visit museums and interact with the art on display by taking and posting selfies with art works.
“We are very much a selfie-loving museum,” says Joan McGarry, museum director of education and visitor engagement.
Visitors are asked not to use selfie sticks, she says.
“Our visitor service representatives are in the galleries at all times and they are trained to assist (patrons) with selfies. They are really great at encouraging selfies and know how to get the best angles (especially with groups),” McGarry says.
At a forum about social media after the accident in Los Angeles, artist Birch said, “That selfie audience has brought a virtual community activated via Instagram. Surely that entry point has been apart of our success. ... There is some resistance to the selfies, but we're stuck with it. ... Isn't every painting a selfie in some effect?”
McGarry recalls one cringe-worthy incident that did not involve a selfie, but rather two parents filming children as they slipped behind ropes and damaged a piece of art hanging on a wall at the Shanghai Museum of Glass in China.
Surveillance film was later posted to YouTube.com.
“The mind boggles,” McGarry says.
“Selfie takers are most respectful of the arts. ... We love it when people take photos and tag us and we can see which ones they love. I think most museums want to embrace technology,” she says.
“So far, touch wood, we've never had any issues,” she says.
Two famous Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the region, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, advise visitors in advance on their websites that photography is prohibited during guided house tours.
Photo policies for Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History both prohibit selfie sticks, along with tripods, backpacks and umbrellas in exhibit areas.
“We have had zero incidents (like The 14th Factory) on our end. I would say that is because of our guards,” says Jonathan Gaugler, Carnegie Museum of Art spokesman.
Security staff, he says, is based “more or less everywhere.”
“I think the most precise thing I can say is 18 inches from a wall. That's the number where we start to get nervous and say, ‘Please back away,' ” Gaugler says.
“On the flip side, we encourage photography as well,” he says.
Sloan MacRae is director of visitor services with the natural history museum.
“People accidentally bump things. We find our visitors really understand the value of what they are exploring,” he says.
That said, some exhibits, like the popular “Dinosaurs in Their Time,” are equipped with railings and sensors to help exuberant visitors keep a safe distance.
High traffic areas typically are more heavily staffed, as well, MacRae says.
It's helpful, especially with children and school groups, to have sections like the Bonehunters Quarry and Discovery Basecamp, he says, where kids can climb, touch and click.
“It's a fine line, but I think all of the staff who have to sort of police that are well-trained to (intervene) politely. We do have an eye out for it,” MacRae says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.