Article by Steven Litt
Jumping ahead of a social trend while moving in synch with other leading American art museums, the Cleveland Museum of Art quietly let the world know two months ago that selfie sticks are verboten in its galleries.
The sticks, which extend cellphones for optimal self-portraits known as selfies, became a popular gift item during the run-up to Christmas, said Aaron Petersal, the museum’s director of visitor experience.
“There were a few news articles going around about the popularity of them in the holiday season,” he said Wednesday in an interview, explaining the rationale for the new policy. “We were also looking at other museums around the country.”
In December, the museum added selfie sticks to the list of items it bars from galleries without advance permission, including tripods, monopods, pens, markers, charcoal and other art materials. Details are on the museum’s website, under “visit.”
Petersal said the museum has three main concerns about the one-armed cousin of the tripod: protecting artworks, protecting visitors from each other, and providing an optimal visitor experience.
“We love people photographing the experience” of visiting the museum, Petersal said. But with a selfie stick in hand, “you may not be paying attention to other people around you, so there’s the potential of hitting someone else,” not to mention an artwork, Petersal said.
The museum’s policy echoes that of other leading institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., which prohibit selfie sticks.
The New York Times recently reported those bans, while also pointing out that the Tate and the National Gallery in London, and the Louvre in Paris, still allow the sticks.
It’s not clear whether other Ohio museums allow them. Lists of prohibited items on the websites of the Toledo Museum of Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum echo those listed on the Cleveland museum’s website, including umbrellas and backpacks. But selfie sticks are not specifically called out.
On Jan. 21, Toledo News Now encouraged readers to take selfie sticks to museums to participate in Museum Selfie Day, which it said started in 2014 as a way to encourage museum visits.
According to The Guardian, American inventor Wayne Fromm, who filed patents, later granted, in 2005, conceived the selfie stick.
Manufacturers have since piled on, producing scores of variations. The viral popularity of the device has caused some commentators to view it as the epitome of a self-centered age, dubbing it the “narcistick.”
“The selfie stick is having a moment,” reported Business Insider.
Petersal admitted that the museum has hardly been awash in selfie sticks. In fact, he said he couldn’t be sure anyone on staff had seen a visitor enter the museum with one in hand.
“We haven’t really experienced them yet,” he said.