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PROUD TO BE ABNORMAL

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News coverage about a curator shuffle at the Brooklyn Museum suggested that the museum’s exhibition schedule would soon become a bleak array of drivel targeted to the lowest common denominator.

But that’s as likely to happen at the Prospect Heights institution as a visit from Picasso.

In fact, the curatorial reorganization (read news story) is more likely to be a boon to the museum’s fans, ensuring that more exhibits — culled from the museum’s vast collection — will be displayed instead of much-maligned, memorabilia-heavy shows rented from other museums in past years, such as “Star Wars” and “Hip-Hop Nation.”

The museum’s reorganization may even end up attracting more visitors, including first-timers — and that’s good news, Museum Director Arnold Lehman told me in an exclusive interview.

“Reaching out to broader audiences should be seen as a huge accomplishment, not as a crime,” Lehman said. “One of my greatest regrets is that so many of my colleagues feel that it is a crime. This is a tax-supported institution. Everyone who pays taxes deserves the same treatment, same accessibility, and the same opportunity as the person who gives us a million dollars.

“We have among the youngest and certainly the most diverse audiences in America, and I think that’s something to be really proud of,” he added. “We’re not forsaking our traditional audiences, believe me. But at the same time, we have audiences who are coming to this institution that have never come before … People, I guess, feel easily threatened when they see people they don’t expect to see in a museum. But they should be thrilled, not upset.”


Walls come down

Like most innovations, necessity was the mother of invention. With finances looking grim, Lehman said he — along with Deputy Director of Art Charles Desmarais and Chief Curator Kevin Stayton — was forced to reorganize the curatorial staff in July. Under the new alignment, the museum’s 18 curators have been divided into a “collections division” of 15 curators (and their staffs), helmed by Stayton, and an “exhibitions division” of three curators (and their staffs), plus education and design personnel, helmed by Desmarais.

Canning the century-old system of museum departments (such as Egyptian, Asian, American, and others) in exchange for lumping all curators into one of two divisions may sound like a huge change, but it’s actually not, Lehman said.

“The collections curators are going to be doing 99.9 percent of what they’ve been doing right along,” he said. “We’re not creating mega-departments … This will bring people together so that they have a chance to have discussion and dialogue with one another.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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