The Brooklyn Museum in New York City has become one of the first major public institutions in the city to open its lobby space up to protestors during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place there. New York has followed suit with a number of other cities in the United States – and elsewhere across the world – following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by police officers in Minneapolis in May. Large numbers of protestors have taken to the streets to show public anger at Mr Floyd’s death which, in turn, has led to accusations of police brutality among ordinary New Yorkers.
On June 3rd, a Twitter campaign was begun to encourage public institutions – such as theatres, museums and auditoriums – to do what they could to help protesters. Many such places, including the Brooklyn Museum, remain closed to the public due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, but the ‘Open Your Lobby’ social media campaign called for them to allow some degree of public access during the extraordinary circumstances of the protests. Mass gatherings of people have been discouraged by city and state authorities all over the world and New York is no exception. This has led to protesters having no access to toilet or washing facilities, nor the opportunity to get out of the sun for a few minutes. Demonstrators have complained that, in some cases, police tactics have caused protesters to be bottlenecked into certain quarters with nowhere to avoid social contact. Nor have protesters been able to easily access food and water because so many shops are currently shut, as well.
Answering the Call
The management team at the Brooklyn Museum decided to answer the call of the ‘Open Your Lobby’ campaign by doing just that. The museum, which is one of the largest in the entire city given its 560,000 square feet footprint, said that it would open for four hours in the afternoon as a safe haven for protesters. The museum, which is located at 200 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, is positioned in a place that has become a gathering point for protesters who want to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter campaign. According to the museum’s authorities, staff members at the institution had noticed how difficult it had become for protestors in the area to maintain social distancing. A spokesperson for the museum told the press that not only would the lobby be opened but that employees of the museum would be available to direct members of the public to toilet facilities and to ensure that social distancing was maintained inside.
According to the Brooklyn Museum, its lobby will be made available on an ongoing basis between 2 pm and 6 pm each day until the situation is reviewed. This is a much-needed resource for the protestors in New York while demonstrations continue on a daily basis. Part of the move has also been to allow people to recharge their mobile phones. Given that many people on the streets are using them to film the activities of themselves, other protesters and the police response, this has been seen by many as almost as important as the chance to refill water bottles.
A Wider Response
Although the Brooklyn Museum was among the first big New York institutions to respond to the Black Lives Matter and Open Your Lobby campaigns, it is by no means the only one. The Museum of Modern Art has also said it will provide bathroom access to the public for a few hours on certain days as well as distributing snacks and water to demonstrators. The Brick Theater, the Brooklyn Arts Exchange and the Irondale Center have all followed the example set by the Brooklyn Museum. Other institutions in the city to have responded to the Open Your Lobby campaign include the Cherry Lane Theater, the MCC Theater and the Ensemble Studio Theater.
In the case of the Brooklyn Museum, it had already begun operating as a food distribution centre before the Open Your Lobby campaign took off. From the start of June, the museum began partnering with the Campaign Against Hunger group. Its car park had been transformed into a free food distribution collection site. According to Campaign Against Hunger, the large-scale job losses in the city have led to it distributing upwards of three million meals to New Yorkers since March, many of them passing through the museum’s site. Of course, the issue of food poverty is one that is not just a problem in New York but it is one that public institutions like the Brooklyn Museum have found themselves in the forefront of during the crisis. As such, the museum has shown itself to be a part of the community it serves and not merely a public facility that is waiting to reopen when restrictions are lifted.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.