Ed Patuto has an unusual job for a 59-year-old guy from Youngstown, Ohio. His gig is to get people to engage and participate with The Broad Museum in Los Angeles. The Broad Museum is unique in that it is free, and that it goes to great lengths to encourage the involvement of the community, breaking through the often intimidating walls that surround art, and especially modern art. People visiting the museum actually seem to be having fun. They take selfies, they chat, there are families with kids in addition to the more scholarly art world denizens all mingling about and interacting with the world-class art collection. It’s a very different vibe from the mostly silent experience that is typical of other museums.
In order for Ed to do this, he has to stay on top of what is happening not only in the specialized world of art but in the much bigger realm of popular culture. It’s an amazing job that requires someone with a range of skills that takes a lifetime to accumulate, along with requiring tremendous curiosity and energy.
Setting The Broad Apart
What is it like working at The Broad?
I’m responsible for all of the programming at the museum that is not the artworks in the galleries. I developed the education programs for school children, the programs for families, as well as the music, performance, dance, and literary events at the museum. I was part of the team that opened the museum and was charged with developing programming that no other museum in the country was doing. Programs that would establish the museum as a market leader. I had to conceive and execute ideas that were utterly unique and would set the museum apart from its peer institutions.
Getting an Audience to Engage
What is the biggest challenge of getting an audience to engage?
Getting people to take a chance on artists with whom they are not familiar. Over the years, the live programming at The Broad has built an audience that trusts our curation and that expects to be surprised. They seek new experiences. The programs have a wonderfully diverse and deeply curious audience that every art institution desires. The programming earned this audience by presenting unexpected combinations of leading-edge performers including emerging and established artists whose performances are fresh and have a resonance with the artwork on view in the galleries. The events enrich visitors’ experience of the artworks through music, performance or spoken word in ways that are relevant to a contemporary LA audience.
Free Jazz and the Black Arts Movement
You just did Soul of a Nation, Art in the Age of Black Power. Tell us about the engagement.
Free jazz was important to the artists of the Black Arts Movement because it successfully challenged what music could be. The artists of the Black Arts Movement were characterized as “Black Artists” or as making “Black Art,” not artists who are black or artists who are making art about their experiences as black people. They were kept out of the racist Euro-centric art world and, therefore, they needed to challenge what art could be or how art was defined. Their role models were jazz artists like John Coltrane and those who continued the practice of experimentation that transformed jazz and music. So we organized two nights featuring pioneers of free jazz: Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton along with younger artists who are keeping the language of jazz relevant to contemporary music. They were called “Black Fire Sessions” which takes its inspiration from LeRoi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka) and Larry Neal’s Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing.
Who came to the opening?
About 1,500 people from the art world as well as community leaders from the African American community. There were celebrities including Tina Knowles, Angela Bassett, and Jay Z, who is a lender to the exhibition.
How do the day-to-day people feel about the show?
Visitors are grateful that The Broad presented this important yet under-recognized grouping of artists. They played an important role in empowering the black community from the ’60s forward, and their work is a source of pride not only for black visitors but many who are moved by the passion, humanity and by the uncompromising political statements made by the artists.
Engaging the Public in an Inviting Way
One of the things I love about The Broad is the incredibly knowledgable and helpful docents in each room. Where do you get them? Do you train them?
Yes! We provide a good deal of training for Visitor Service Associates on the artists and artwork in the collection as well as customer service and how to engage with the public in a manner that is inviting.
From Brooklyn to DTLA
You live in a converted factory building in DTLA. Why are you here?
My partner David and I moved to LA from Brooklyn and we wanted to be in a neighborhood where we could walk to stores and restaurants. We liked the gritty and the off-the-beaten-path quality of the neighborhood because it reminded us of Brooklyn.