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Art museums are on the watch for the rise of ‘selfie sticks’

Even President Obama used a selfie stick in a White House promotion for the Affordable Care Act.
Even President Obama used a selfie stick in a White House promotion for the Affordable Care Act.

Like clamshell phones, taking an arm’s-length selfie is passe.

The latest trend in smartphones is extenders called selfie sticks that allow the user to hold their device as much as 3 feet away, giving their ego photos a wider view of that landmark or artwork in the background.

The result can be more depth in a picture of yourself in front of a Monet.

The sticks are sticking up all over the place in Asia, Europe and increasingly in the United States. So much so that art museums in bigger cities are banning them.

Galleries here say it is not a problem — yet. But they are aware of the situation elsewhere and ready to impose restrictions if necessary.

“Our first concern is always the safety of the art,” said Kathleen Leighton, spokeswoman for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A gallery full of people waving the sticks could easily cause significant damage to people as well as art.

“You can imagine when you’re extending something out into a crowded room the potential for someone to turn into it or have it hit them in the face,” said Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College. “There are liability issues.”

Many prestigious museums have said no to the stick, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Local galleries have not felt the need.

“If it becomes something that catches on in this community, I suppose we’ll be addressing that,” Hartman said.

Area galleries do have policies regarding photography in general. Typically, tripods and monopods are prohibited, but the Nelson will allow a tripod if the user is escorted by a staff member.

“Tripods and monopods can create trip hazards,” said Kent Michael Smith, communications director at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. “In the same manner, the selfie stick would encourage a visitor using one to be less aware of surroundings, perhaps, and less engaged in what they’re doing.”

For now, if a security guard at the Nelson sees someone using a selfie stick in a way that creates a danger for the art, he or she may ask the visitor to refrain or even offer to take a picture for them, Leighton said.

With the exception of temporary exhibits where copyright may be a problem, museum visitors generally are welcome to take pictures.

“In the age of social media, it’s oftentimes encouraged to have images of an exhibition or your facility out there,” said Kent Smith of the Kemper. “It can be a positive for your museum.”

The H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute does not have permanent exhibits. The issue there of whether to allow photography is generally dependent on the wishes of the artist whose work is being displayed, said director and curator Raechell Smith.

But we live in a time when it seems everyone has a camera in their pocket or purse — or maybe even in their eyeglasses.

“Increasingly, museums are finding it almost impossible to enforce photography policies, particularly as the camera apparatus becomes ever more discreet,” noted Hartman of the Nerman.

The Grand Arts gallery in the Crossroads District has not had a show in many months, so selfie sticks have not raised their heads there. Besides, the gallery is so intimate that visitors are greeted at the door.

“It would just be such an obvious breach of decorum here,” said artistic director Stacy Switzer. “Of course, it would also be at the Louvre.”

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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