The Software Agents - Episode 2: Museum Operations - Rich Cherry, Managing Partner - Art Museums Get Smart

The Software Agents is a new podcast series sponsored by CloudBees. Each week we bring you leaders from many fields applying software to reimagine them for the new world under construction.

Art museums are using software to maximize visitor access under new restrictions, and make their online experiences more like a visit to the building. Rich Cherry, a former Marine and IT professional, works with cultural institutions to leverage his 30+ years of experience in tech and operations as the pandemic changes the rules for museums and visitors. He has been an IT leader at major institutions including the Guggenheim in NY and the Albright-Knox Gallery, co-founded the Museums on the Web conference, and drove the development and launch of the high profile Broad in Los Angeles where he developed a software-enabled operating model that lets them do more for visitors with a smaller staff - incidentally, systems that are now crucial to safe museum reopenings worldwide. A lifelong tinkerer, Rich is a rare talent, adept at IT architecture, building construction, and operational models.

Announcer: Welcome to the Software Agents, a podcast series that brings you the people using software to help change the world in this time of transformation. With the help of some of the brightest technology minds, we'll explore how almost every possible area of life, society, and business is being reimaged through the power of software. 

Christina Noren: Welcome to one of the first of our many podcasts on how software's helping the world survive and evolve right now.

As told by the people making it happen. I'm Christina Noren and my cohost is Paul Boutin.

Paul Boutin: Hello. Thanks for tuning in.

Christina Noren: It is sponsored by CloudBees, leader in software delivery automation and software delivery management, with over 40 percent of the Fortune 500 relying on its leading continuous integration, continuous delivery, feature flagging and cloud-native products. 

Today we have Rich Cherry who is a valued friend who is one of those change agents bringing technology to an area of the world that, you know, needs to adapt right now. Rich, if you want to tell me a little bit about – you know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do these days and how you got here, and then we'll go from there. 

Rich Cherry: Sure. Thank you, Christina. Thanks for having me on the show. These days I am managing partner for a consulting company that I put together called Museum Operations.

And what we do is focus on three areas of the museum space – technology, operations, and construction. And there's a little interesting connection between those things, because first of all, you know, I've been a technologist my whole life, and when I got into the museum space about 20 years ago –– like other fields that I had worked in, I approached the museum space from a technology standpoint the way I've always approached servicing organizations, is that you have to know the business. And as a consequence of really digging in and understanding the business it's kind of impacted my career arc in the sense that I moved from being a technologist to overseeing operations at museums, which usually includes technology, and then from there to actually, you know, kind of senior management within the organization.

At which point I had the opportunity to kind of work on several construction projects, which when you get into it, the project management skills that you need to be an effective technologist kind of transfer right over. In fact, I often say it's a lost easier to do construction because you can actually see what's going on, whereas if you're managing a coding project, you know, unless you're completely conversant in the languages that the programmers are using you might not actually know how much work they're getting done or where the stage is.

That said, it's a lot harder when you make a mistake in a construction project. You have to jackhammer out concrete versus, you know, redoing some code.

Christina Noren: So I'm going to lead the witness a little bit and ask you to be more specific because, you know, I think one of the things that a lot of our guests can relate to is that you started off, you know, as I understand it, as an IT guy in banking.

And I think you were at HSBC at one point. And you told me about reading banking magazines back then.

Rich Cherry: [Laughs]

Christina Noren: You know, and then you ended up, you know, the head of IT for museums as high profile as the Guggenheim, and I know you always had an interest in art so – you know, and I think you're being a little bit modest about this –– given that you were the person who brought the IT and the operations, the construction side together for one of the most high-profile museum launches in the world over the last few years, the Broad, which is how we met. So I'm going to invite you to tell us a little bit more about that and then I'm going to lead the witness a little bit more.

Rich Cherry: We have to go back far enough. 

High school age, you know, PCs were just coming into existence. I was fortunate to be at a school that had both the resources to fill up a computer lab and also the kind of progressiveness to not have study halls, so that meant that whenever I didn't have a class I was hanging out in the computer lab. I took a small detour when I got out of the Marines. I was a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico for a few years.

Which probably was my real first introduction to construction, because a lot of the work that we were doing, you know, consisted of large-scale underwater construction. And then I ended up back in technology. So I did field service for a while and then ended up in a manufacturing company starting off as a phone support person, writing manuals for the electronics gear that this company made, and transitioned that into their first IT director position.

I went from there to HSBC where I started off as an information technology auditor focused on the security aspects of banking. The IT department was very happy to steal me away from the auditors once my first year was up because they didn't want me auditing them anymore. So they gave me, at the time, a big networking rollout team, so I was rolling out Windows NT corporatewide for HSBC Bank.

Whichever business I was in I do take a very focused approach to it in understanding why are we in the business, you know, what drives the profits for the business and how can I make technology affect that? When there was an advertisement for IT director in a museum I thought, wow, that sounds really cool.

I wasn't a big – I mean I was a fan of art but I wasn't knowledgeable about art, and so again, when I got to my first museum, which was the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. And for those of you that don't know, it's actually one of the most important modern and contemporary art museums in the world even though it's in Buffalo, and it's been collecting contemporary art – in other words, art of the time – for about 160 years.

And so it's one of the older art museums in the country, about six years older than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, so it's kind of an interesting place to start of a career, first of all, in the art world and then in the museum field, because it's a storied institution and yet small enough that each person that works there can actually have a relatively large impact. I came onboard into that organization because they were launching an aggressive technology program that wasn't necessarily focused on the end user.

It was focused on getting content from the museums online, which if you could kind of look at the timeline and, you know, a lot of things have happened since, but museums like – large museums like the Met and the Getty really didn't get online until the mid '90s or late '90s.

Christina Noren: It had to be late '90s. I finished art school in the early '90s and, you know, I did all of my art history courses based on slides and projectors.

Rich Cherry: Absolutely. And that was – and the main reason that I got a job in the museum field was because of the planning of that transition from just doing slides to digital imaging, and there was a group of museums that got together and there was a kind of visionary curator at the time at the Albright-Knox, who has gone on to be the director of several museums, who was leading the effort there and pushing them into this partnership which was called the Art Museum Image Consortium. 

And what it was, was 25 leading-edge organizations that were digitizing collection and putting them into a shared resource that was then licensed out to universities and colleges and high schools and elementary schools so that the teachers could use that as an alternative to slides.

Which while slides are amazing, you know, the kind of cycle of trying to get them out to teachers and get them out to professors was always a barrier. You know, somebody would send in a request, you'd package it up, it'd get sent out, it needed to come back, you know, there was fees involved, whereas we were kind of licensing these images through existing licensing organizations that already had relationships with universities and this was just an added value to them.

The museums were picking up the cost of digitizing themselves so there really wasn't a high cost structure for the institutions to get into it.

Christina Noren: So I'm going to punctuate this and start to bring it closer to present day, which is to say that that was a very early project in terms of getting the art, the experience of art digital, and we are now in a moment in which, you know, all of our lives are going much slower.

Rich Cherry: [Laughs] Yeah. It's a pretty amazing shift that's happened over –

I mean I feel very fortunate to be alive when I was alive. You know, the transition was pretty rapid in those organizations that were onboard, but it's still happening I think in a lot of organizations. So even within those organizations back then there was fears around digital and, you know, hey, if you put all this stuff online will people actually still come to museums? And, you know, we now know and the research shows that that was not a valid concern.

But back then, you know, it was looked at and it was very seriously debated even within the people that were participating in the project.

Christina Noren: But for contemporary art, still there's a lot of estates of artists who died in the last 10 years that don't allow digital photography in museums of their work, you know, so –

Rich Cherry: Yeah. Absolutely.

Christina Noren: I'm going to shift you a little bit.

So your most – you're being modest, but your most notable achievement, what most people know you for the last few years has been the Broad Museum, and I'd love for you to talk a little bit about the Broad Museum and some of its visionary approaches to technology and how that applies to museums reopening live experiences.

Paul Boutin: I'm going to jump in for a second here and take one for the audience, that the Broad is the museum in Los Angeles that most of us until five seconds ago thought was pronounced the Broad [different pronunciation].

And I know that many are wondering, well, oh gosh, what are museums going to do with no one can visit? Their revenue streams, they're going to go bankrupt, and I'd like for you to explain for the audience first where the cashflow at museums is and where the technology is actually behind the scenes that visitors don't know about.

Rich Cherry: Okay, well a couple of different things to unpack there.

Broad versus Broad [different pronunciation]. It was really interesting. A couple of points on that I just want to touch. When we were first opening, if you go back probably in the Wayback machine online you'll actually see our opening website had a big slide that said, "It's Broad like Road." [Laughs] It had a picture of a road. And then prior to opening, a big debate, because all of the t-shirts that we were producing, the custom kind of logo wear, were people going to interpret it as broad, that you're wearing a shirt that says Broad or Broad [different pronunciation]?

Christina Noren: [Laughs] 

Rich Cherry: Just a little –

Christina Noren: Isn't that funny? Because we're having a lot of challenges of naming this podcast, and we had a lot of things that appeal to Paul and me in terms of snarky humor. [Laughs]

Rich Cherry: Yeah, it was a little tricky. The Broad. So a mix of interesting t-shirts.

Paul Boutin: Tell us about visitor economics. That was interesting to hear.

Rich Cherry: So I think, you know, that most people don't realize kind of the cost structures that go into making a museum operate. So I'll put up some high-level numbers, and they might be a little dated because I haven't seen a recent study, but like 2018 the average art museum spent about $52.00 a visitor. So if you took the total operating budget of the museum, divided it by how many people came in the door, on average museums spend about $52.00.

And earnings from those visitors that were coming in through the door was somewhere around $7.50. Now we were a little fortunate at the Broad, which is free, I will say, that we were taking in about $8.50 and only spending about $16.00. A lot of that has to do with Mr. Broad and his aggressive approach to things and his success in starting two Fortune 500 companies and his management style.

But I think that most people, you know, kind of imagine – I mean and there are some institutions that do very well at the gate. You know, the Met is charging – even though they're nominally free they charge suggested donation of $25.00, you know, you go to MoMA you're talking numbers in the similar vein, and even the Broad, the general admission is free but they do charge for some of the special exhibitions that cost a lot of money to bring in and present, and so those costs and charges are anywhere from $12.00 to $25.00 a ticket.

So, you know, most of the money, and of course for the Broad pretty much all of the money, comes from, you know, Mr. Broad, and philanthropy like that is what really supports most of the art museums that people go to.

You know, the director and usually a team of development people are out there raising money, and they're raising it for both the direct operating costs of the institution, the capital costs of expanding and improving and maintaining the institution, and then for the endowment, which then spins off revenue, and a healthy, older institution usually kind of stands of three legs. They have the philanthropy, they have the endowment and then they have money for operations.

And when I said _____ only use a small portion, that's why you see a lot institutions doing events, hosting private events, things like that that also generate revenue. So you take the Broad and you kind of approach that and you look at it. First of all it's a high-design institution, right? So out of the gate it's Liz Diller is the architect and it's a very kind of organic shape when you actually walk into the lobby.

And one of the challenges – you know, when I look at using technology it's about solving problems for the business. One of the challenges that that institution had was it was really difficult to figure out where you were going to welcome people into that space. Now in a perfect world, and if you do, you know, kind of a more traditional architecture, you look at the visitor needs, you work backwards from that and you say, okay, we're going to build around that, design around that.

But, you know, Mr. Broad didn't approach it that way and so you have this very beautiful lobby that made it really difficult to service the visitor. And at the time – this was when we started looking for software, you know, 2013 – most of – I was very familiar after being in the field for more than 15 years at that point, that there really wasn't any very progressive software packages that were out there for doing the kind of things that we wanted to do, which was eliminate the admissions desk and go completely handheld.

You know, meet the visitors outside the museum. We have the fortune of being in L.A. with wonderful weather. You know, you can do that. Probably 99.9 percent of the time there's not any rain to worry about, and the way the museum was designed there's actually an overhang even when it is raining. So we developed a time ticketing system, and I would say that most of the other software that was available at the time wasn't very good at time ticketing either.

Paul Boutin: What's time ticketing?

Rich Cherry: Time ticketing is the idea that you buy a ticket for a particular timeslot, and the reason we were approaching it that way is first of all we thought the museum would be very popular. It was more popular than we even thought it would be, but when you approach a problem like that you say, "Okay, well what options do I have to kind of deal with the fact that I don't want a million people to show up at once and try to get into the museum?"

I mean that would be chaos. So you break down those visitors into timeslots, and we went with a half-hour timeslot and spread those visitors out over an eight or nine-hour day. And that also allows you to kind gauge and control flow.

So, you know, one of the things that I'm sure we've all experienced if you've been to an art museum, you know, is being somewhere where you actually – it's not a very enjoyable experience because there's actually too many people in the museum, and it was very important to the director and to Eli that not only was it an enjoyable experience but that we were able to manage the people that were there with a limited amount of staff. You know, Eli was very aggressive about his staffing model.

And we opened the museum, which I think had 825,000 people visit in the first 12 months, and we opened it with 25 full-time staff and I believe 90 part-time staff which were primarily the floor staff, and in order to do that you need to manage kind of every aspect of what's going on and time ticketing was that tool. And so we developed time ticketing in a way that was, I would say, very flexible on the backend. 

In other words, that you could create a variety of – because one of the challenges with time ticketing is when you'd create a ticket in any kind of system you're creating an object, and if you think about time ticketing, you know, do we create tickets out to infinity, and what does that to do a computer system when you don't give it an end and it starts creating these objects that can then be sold? 

How do you deal with things like, oh, this day got canceled or we're open every Sunday except for that Sunday, but I have this time ticket which is more like a calendar thing? You think about in Outlook, if you wanted to create a repeating event that happened on Tuesday at 2:00, Wednesday at 4:00 and Saturday, you know, at 11:00 and 12:00, that's like a docent tour, right? 

The calendaring around that doesn't work in Outlook. That's actually four events and you have to associate all the content with each four of those events, and if you change one, you know, you're creating complexity. And so we came up with a methodology, a software methodology, to kind of deal with that, and then apply that to ticketing. So the calendaring is really the tricky part and then the ticketing is associated with the calendar object. 

Christina Noren: So I'm going to pause and _____ for a second.

So this is one of the avenues we wanted to go down in this conversation. So the Broad has not reopened yet and L.A. is behind some of the rest of the country and the world in reopening, and it's just closed museums down again, but it seems like these are, you know, really tricky problems around operating art museums that are very relevant to what people are saying about social distancing and crowd control and the ideas around reopening museums around the world.

Rich Cherry: Right. 

Christina Noren: I know you're involved in consulting with a lot of, you know, other museums in other geographies. So how has the museum world in general dealt with the things post initial COVID lockdown? And I know museums are reopening in various places, so if you can _____ a little bit.

Rich Cherry: So I mean, again, for example, time ticketing is one of those things that institutions are using.

I don't think they're using it very well yet given the recent examples of the places that I've seen open and that I've actually gone to. One of the advantages of the system that we actually designed was you can do time – we were doing time tickets on the half hour, and that was just a logical way for us to approach it. But the way the system's designed there's no reason that you couldn't do time tickets every five minutes, and that gives you the ability to kind of create this social distancing aspect in software, in effect.

Because right now, like for instance we're working with an organization that – you know, a small gallery situation where they don't – they can't handle 100 people showing up at once like they could before. Now, you know, not that 100 people showed up like that before – it's a small gallery – but, you know, for an opening, imagine. But even for an opening you could pace those people out very effectively by time ticking around a five-minute cycle.

Again, if you think about that and start doing things like annualizing it, that's a lot of variety. But the way we designed the ticketing system was so that you don't have to create each one of those things. You just have to tell – kind of set up a story. You know, you have to say we're going to sell X tickets every five minutes between these times and these are the exceptions and these are the things that – where we either sell more or sell less and variety.

You can have things like standby where there's a couple of extra tickets. That's where people are starting to say, "Oh, I have to do this even though before I just – I wasn't busy enough." You know, a lot of institutions aren't usually – unless they have something special going on – they're not that busy. The Broad was an exception in that, you know, it opened in September of 2015 and it has been sold out since. It's still hard to  get tickets.

One of those challenges is, you know, Mr. Broad wanted more international travelers to be able to go, and it's like, you know, Eli, we can't because we're sold out, and so it's like how do you – you've got to reach those people far enough in advance that they're actually online buying ticketing before they – yeah, a month – yeah.

Christina Noren: Yeah. My husband visited, and you gave me the first tour I had of it, but a few months later my niece from Australia, she's an incredible art aficionado, she's 17 years old, she bought tickets for the visit that her parents had planned to Los Angeles, she bought tickets for the Broad two months in advance because she was that eager to go.

Rich Cherry: Well, I mean I think one of the good things maybe about this is that the mindset is going to shift in that you're going to have to do that with every museum.

So people will be, you know, planning their kind of trips a little more carefully because institutions do need to manage. I know I went – my wife and I went on kind of a scouting trip because we're both – you know, we're consulting for other institutions and so we wanted to see an opening. The Petersen, which is an automotive museum in Los Angeles, opened a few weeks ago, and it was kind of a twofer for me because they also had a Tesla truck that I wanted to see.

So we went over there and, you know, even though they had time tickets they hadn't really anticipated, first of all, the demand. People were eager to get out, probably partially because of the Tesla truck, I'm sure, but they had marked out probably, you know, 50 meters of six-foot lines in their parking garage so that people could stand aside, and there was more than that in line, which was not kind of ideal, right?

Instead of having those people line up like that, what you really would want is those people that were every six feet showing up at their own time. And, you know, I think time ticketing and kind of the model that we created kind of helps that. I think one of the challenges is for a lot of the legacy systems that are out there – and this is what we ran into when we were looking at it – they're just not flexible enough to handle that many times, and so kind of – it worked for us but it kind of also now is a package that's out there.

We developed it with a vendor and then another vendor actually picked up that package, and they're out of Santa Monica. It's amazing, you know, how well it works, you know, given that it wasn't really designed for what is happening now. I think that company's going to do very well software-wise.

Christina Noren: That's an interesting side. We're starting to pick up on these conversations in different domains, is there are certain things that were sort of obvious directions the work was going that people were developing in one domain or another that now are being put into hyperdrive because of these new restrictions.

But, you know, just in terms of time we have left, I know you have other thoughts on the way – so, you know, the world is split right now between institutions that are carefully reopening and finding ways to manage traffic and have a different physical experience like what you were just talking about.

And then institutions that, you know, are still closed or reclosed, and I know your thoughts rooted in your time with Albright-Knox of how institutions can do more to fulfill their mission digitally and virtually, so I'd love to hear a little bit more about that. 

Rich Cherry: Sure. I mean it was interesting. When I first came into the field, you know, distance learning was all the rage and some of the institutions in New York –– there's an organization called BOCES, and it escapes me what it actually even stands for, but it's a vocational education program, and they had gotten a bunch of state funding to roll out distance learning, and they came to us at the Albright and I was like, wow, this is a great opportunity for us to put wifi in. So, you know, back in 1999 I'm rolling out wifi in a museum so that I could roll a TV with a Polycom conferencing unit around within the galleries –– completely powered by a UPS, and it would transfer the Polycom call to wireless, across the wireless, convert it into a bonded ISDN line [laughs] and then call out to a classroom where the students would be and they'd be able to interact with an educator at the museum as they moved from artwork to artwork. And haven't we come a long way since then?

The things that are going on now, and you look around the world, almost – and a lot of it actually was led by Google Culture, I think, you know, pushing into that space and creating kind of these virtual tours of various collections, somewhat disconnected from the institution sometimes as Google sometimes does, but the idea was get the content out there, make it – you know, popularize it.

Get people to, you know, almost experience it like you're on Google street view. And that has – I mean there was early cases of it in the field. The Frick back in – again, in the '90s – was putting on tours like that online in very high resolution. It was very expensive at the time. Nowadays you can go into an institution with a GoPro and kind of do a 360-degree tour with a little bit of software within a couple of hours.

In fact, it was kind of interesting, there's a tool that Google has now too –

Christina Noren: And without the guard telling you to stop

Rich Cherry: Pardon me?

Christina Noren: I said and without the guard telling you to stop.

Rich Cherry: Right, without the guard – I mean there's actually some Google – like I was on a trip – my wife and I went to the area of Japan, Nagano, where the snow monkeys are, and we stayed in this very famous Japanese Realcom, which is kind of their equivalent of like a bed, breakfast and dinner.

It's where the hot springs are in the hotel. You can go on Google Maps and actually walk around inside that space and, you know, walk right to our room with this tool from Google. You can actually then make your own tour and, you know, have people be able to click on those things and be very kind of museum-y about it almost. And so that's more or less what most institutions are doing. You can't – there is no interaction. 

And I think they're missing a big opportunity because the experience of going to a museum – and this has always been, you know, kind of an argument from within the museum world, but I think it's a pretty valid one – it's a social experience. It's about not just about you and an artwork, which you can see on your screen, but it's about you and the person you're with discussing the artwork and you and maybe a tour guide discussing the artwork or meeting someone on a tour that you start talking to about the artwork.

And none of tours that I've seen so far – and granted, I don't know everything that's going on online with museums, there's 65,000 museums just in the United States and a new one coming online in China every day – but I haven't seen any of the big institutions really take the leap and recreate that experience. And I imagine some of it has to do with, well, if we do that why would people come, which I still think is not a valid argument.

But if you could imagine going to a website and meeting up there with a couple of your friends who are in another city and joining a tour led by a real person who can answer your question as they're walking you around virtually within the space, and that you could even wander off from that tour and click through other places and still hear the tour off in the distance using _____ technology – I mean there's just so much more that I think institutions can do.

Christina Noren: [Interrupts] Like I can enjoy art with you virtually much more than I can enjoy a cocktail with you.

Rich Cherry: Yeah. I think so. I mean because you're actually inter – it's the – and I hate to say this, but it's like – you know, it's what the kids are doing on video games now, right? I mean they're sitting there chatting while they're playing the game even though they are – you know, my son plays with a friend of his that's in San Diego. 

And, you know, they're doing that. Why aren't museums looking at that and saying – you know, it's not even – with the tech that's available today it's not even hard.  

Christina Noren: You want Twitch for museums.

Rich Cherry: Right, right. Not that I'm a big Twitch user, but like, you know, that's what – there's an elegant way to approach this problem that really solves the problem of these kinds of situations, and to a certain extent, to create a whole new market.

Because right now the experience is so different when you go online and – say you go to the Guggenheim and you go through one of their virtual tours. I mean you're by yourself at your – I mean maybe you could have your kids and stuff and hang out at your desk and do it, but it's not a shared experience. It's one person driving even if you're doing that. So you can't even really charge for it, right? And if you have that experience that's the next level, like the video game, you could charge for it.

Paul Boutin: There's also something that our guest on retail last episode brought up, is that one thing you get walking into the real place is the expertise and experience and the personal attention that you can't get sorting by price on Amazon for retail, and in this case, for me going to a museum and – I'm an idiot but I see what other people are looking at and hear what they're talking about, and instead of a formal tour that's scripted from start to finish what you just described there, there's a lot of expertise both on the and in the other museum-goers that isn't being tapped into if I'm just given a canned walkthrough. 

Rich Cherry: Right. And there's – there are museums that are providing that in a separate environment. So for instance, you can text – I think they still do this – they did it for a while at least – SFMOMA has text a curator. You can get your answer, but it's not connected to the virtual experience.

You know, it's more actually better designed for when you're actually in the museum, and so people are combining these things–

Christina Noren: [Interrupts] There's also this idea that there's absolute objectivity around – you know, it's like there's a fact I'm supposed to walk away from every painting with rather than –

Rich Cherry: [Laughs]

Christina Noren: I avoid getting too art geeky on this, although _____ context, but I think what I like about what you're saying about, you know, what I'll just call Twitch for art museums, is that it –

You know, there's a lot more nuance that's shared amongst different museumgoers, and if you wish, docent in that real-life experience. So anyway, it just took me –

Rich Cherry: [Interrupts] If I could just take one last detour from this. I mean it's not really a detour but it is relevant in the sense of the tech that I rolled out at the Broad. 

Christina Noren: Your live experience. 

Rich Cherry: I'm sorry, I was talking over you. I'm sorry.

Christina Noren: This whole experience can be more compelling and, you know, leverage what museums' assets are. Are there – you know, before we close out, are there any other avenues that you're thinking about in terms of how digital is going to aid or transform the museum experience in the next few years in the wake of what we're going through right now?

Rich Cherry: Well, I think you take what I was just talking about and then you go to full virtual reality. That would probably be the next step. And it was interesting, I was having a conversation with one of the vendors in the space over email because it was just asynchronous. She was in a different time zone. And I was explaining something that I wanted to try and she was like, "Well, you know, first of all you'd need a whole lot of space for that." And I'm like, whoa, whoa, no, no, I wasn't talking about putting goggles on and doing it.

But, you know, you start thinking about what you can do with VR goggles and kind of where some of this is going. You know, Google is, once again, pushing into the augmented eyewear space and looking at new opportunities for consumer versions of that. You know, I think it's all around that kind of tech I think is where the next big innovations.

But, you know, museums are not necessarily known for being out there on the cutting edge so it'd be tough to predict when, but I think that eventually they will get to the point where there are high-quality virtual reality experiences that leverage the art.

Christina Noren: So art museums that you're working with or talking to that, you know, are the next Broad in terms of pushing the envelope _____.

Rich Cherry: [Laughs] Well, you know, I mean the Broad – first of all, I would say, you know, it wasn't a no-brainer to kind of get some of that stuff through. I mean, you know, Eli was in his early 80's and not necessarily looking to innovate as opposed to just getting people access to his collection, and so it wasn't that easy to do it there and he had the resources. Other institutions don't – new institutions don't necessarily. 

So I think, you know, when institutions are opening it's almost all they can do just to get open, especially new ones. So I think the place – at the same time that is the opportunity time when you haven't built the structures up that slow you down within an institution. So I'm hopeful that certain institutions will both – some of them will take advantage of some of the things that we pioneered at the Broad.

You know, another area that we pushed into was learning management systems, where again, starting with 25 full-time staff didn't give me a full education department, so the workaround for that was hire consultant educators to create training programs for the staff, and therefore every person that you meet at the Broad has gone through at least 40, possibly up to 80 hours of art training, which is pretty significant relative to what normally you don't get in any institution for your frontline staff.

There's usually – if you're lucky there's a manual but there's no training package. These staff, you know, are docent-level trained when you – everybody that you talk to at the museum, and so the education department is writ large; it's everyone you talk to. 

Christina Noren: Fascinating.

Rich Cherry: Yeah. And that's all software-enabled, you know? I mean it doesn't happen without technology. So I think some more museums would be picking up on that. 

I mean primarily because of the savings model, I think, but the advantages – it actually services the visitor very well – and then, you know, pushing into virtual reality, more and more digitization. I mean there's – people don't realize sometimes the scale of collections. You take an organization like the Smithsonian and they could put all of their resources, their billion-dollar budget into digitizing and they would not ever be done.

So they will be digitizing until forever. Smaller institutions like the Broad, all their collection's already digitized, so really it's about – and a big piece with the Broad too, as you know from being there, is the architectural space. There's no place like it and you want people to be able to experience that. I mean if you think about the virtual tour model, one of the challenges that – and Eli has pointed out time and time again, is that we're not servicing international visitors. 

Well, virtually you could be running that museum 24/7 and you could be helping people on the other side of the world in their own time zone to actually see and experience that, not in the way it would be if you were there but as close to that as you could get.

Christina Noren: Yeah. I mean so many museum websites are still basically, you know, virtual slideware. They're just a bunch of two-dimensional images of –

You know, and it's reducing art to just its two-dimensional representation when the museum has put so much effort – you know, whether it's the Broad or a more traditional institution like the Met or somewhere in between like the Guggenheim – so much effort into the experience of walking around, and most of the billions of people on the planet are never going to be able to walk into the institution and experience that.

Rich Cherry: And they put the show up for three months and then it's gone.

Christina Noren: Exactly, exactly.

Rich Cherry: And if you didn't experience it in that three-month period, that same curatorial experience that was custom made for that space will never exist again, and to a degree this is an opportunity to archive that show for all – for the future, so that a curator who's writing about a show that had 10 different artists in it and they're finally getting around to doing one of those artists as a solo show could not only read about it but they could actually experience it. You know?

Christina Noren: Yeah. I actually – I mean because I'm an art geek I have a shelf full of books, you know, basically recreations of historical exhibitions that were seminal. So I'm going to pull myself back from getting too art geeky.

Rich Cherry: [Laughs]

Christina Noren: I'll just sort of close by saying that what I take away from this conversation is that there's a lot technology can do to, you know, immediately put a band-aid on the museum experience as we know it today, when museums are trying to go from trying to cloud their spaces to space out visitors and that there's a near-term set of things that forward-looking institutions could do in software to provide virtual experiences.

And then there are some really groundbreaking virtual experiences, and I think the net-net of all of it is that like in all the other domains that we're talking to people in it seems that the period we're in now is a catalyst for a subset of organizations in that domain to leapfrog and advance a decade and a year and, you know, in five decades in a decade.

And it feels like, you know, people like you are going to guide some of those institutions along the way.

Rich Cherry: I hope so. I think you could – we can call it our year 2000, right? [Laughs]

Christina Noren: Exactly. [Laughs] Pau, any other thoughts?

Paul Boutin: I wanted to point out that what I learned today was first that where a lot of businesses are simply about trying to maximize their revenue right now, museums are created because people who had money wanted to share their art with other people and provide an experience for them.

Software is actually helping make that possible both at the museum and outside the museum, and it's really great.

Christina Noren: That's an interesting – that's a totally valid perspective.

Paul Boutin: And I'll also say that most people, when they think about art and digital, don't think any further than digital scans of a collection, which is about the difference between when we converted all of Shakespeare's scripts to ASCII text in the '80s versus actually seeing the play. So thank you for your work.

Rich Cherry: Yes. Thank you. [Laughs] That's cool.

Christina Noren: This was a great conversation, as it always is with you. I really do appreciate you joining us today and good luck getting these experiences to _____.

Rich Cherry: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.

Paul Boutin: Absolute pleasure. Take care. 

Christina Noren: Bye-bye.

Rich Cherry: Bye.

Christina Noren

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