"We see ourselves as a conduit for open sharing and learning, we accept the controversies that may accompany courageous conversations."
Laval Bryant, Manager of Tourism & Groups at The Brooklyn Museum
A native New Yorker born and raised across the street from the museum she now works in, Laval Bryant gives us an exclusive insight into the life at The Brooklyn Museum, their mission to work with the local community and some of her favourite pieces.
TTG: Tell us about your day to day role at The Brooklyn Museum
LB: I oversee groups and tourism for the museum. I work closely with New York and Company and Brooklyn Chambers on a daily basis. No day is ever the same. I usually start my day off in “the field”, which includes outreaching to the community we serve, talking about our offerings or participating in art collectives. In the museum, I collaborate with the Curators and Educators to create programming that will surround tour offerings in order to provide a more thematic approach that will relate to our visitors.
TTG: The Brooklyn Museum is renowned for showcasing striking and highly emotive exhibitions ranging from subjects such as feminism and the Black Power Movement. How do you go about telling these stories accurately and respectfully?
LB: The museum collaborates with organisations and community based activists to ensure that we are curating our special exhibitions and programming accurately and respectfully. The people that work in the museum are also very active in the community. We believe that we must create an active and participatory institutional shift in cultural institutions. The Brooklyn Museum acknowledges their social responsibility to connect others by providing safe havens to spark social change.
"Artists responded to these times by provoking, confronting, and confounding expectations - their momentum makes for an electrifying visual journey."
- Laval Bryant
TTG: Are there any artefacts or pieces of artwork within the museum that people automatically gravitate to?
LB: Certainly, people are attracted to the The Mummy Chamber, this installation of more than 170 objects from our world-famous holdings of ancient Egyptian material explores the complex rituals related to the practice of mummification and the Egyptian belief that the body must be preserved in order to ensure eternal life. On view are the mummy of the priest Thothirdes; the mummy of Hor, encased in an elaborately painted cartonnage; and a nearly twenty-five-foot-long Book of the Dead scroll
The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago: is an icon of feminist art, which represents 1,038 women in history—39 women are represented by place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the table rests. It is set in one of the first feminist galleries in the world. It is both a sacred and aesthetically humbling gallery space. We also have William Blake's The Great Red Dragon. Blake was a visionary printmaker, painter, and poet influenced by the Bible as well as the art of Michelangelo. Inspired by the Book of Revelations, he transformed a classical male nude into a seven-headed dragon, identified with Satan.
TTG: What’s your favourite exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum?
One of my favourite artworks in the museum is “A Little Taste Outside of Love” by Mickalene Thomas. She creates monumental pictures that explore and challenge the representation and objectification of women, and black women in particular. She draws inspiration from images of iconic African American women, emblems of the Black Power Movement, and her mother’s photographs from the 1970s.
My favourite section in the museum is our American Luce Centre of Visible Storage. A major component of the Luce Center for American Art is the 5,000-square-foot storage and study centre. This dense display of objects offers an inside look at how museums work and provides a glimpse of our extensive American collections. As large as our building is, just a small fraction of the permanent collections can be displayed in our gallery space. Whereas only about 350 works are on view in the adjacent American Art installation, this facility gives open access to some 2,000 of the many thousands of American objects held in storage.
TTG: New York City has such a huge variety of attractions including 100 museums, what makes The Brooklyn Museum stand out from the other attractions available?
LB: We have a long-standing relationship with the community we serve by hosting First Saturday’s sponsored by Target. Admission to the Brooklyn Museum is free from 5 to 11pm on the first Saturday of every month, providing the opportunity to see the institution's permanent collection and a wealth of art exhibitions. There's also a host of special events each month, including live music and dancing too.
We also recognise that differing views may sometimes be met with discomfort and dissent. Since we see ourselves as a conduit for open sharing and learning, we accept the controversies that may accompany courageous conversations. We celebrate the cultural vibrancy of our local communities and help build meaningful relationships that elevate and strengthen them.
"Believing that in action there is hope, we champion the powerful roles art and artists can play in our communities both inside and outside the Museum’s walls."
- Laval Bryant
TTG: What advice would give someone who is visiting New York for the very first time, what would you tell him or her to see/do/eat?
I would say to explore the unbeaten path of New York. Visit the neighbourhoods that are slowly changing. The more tourism grows in these neighbourhoods, the more you will really get to experience the areas of New York that make our city SO special.
I would visit Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Featuring tours, events, and more in a place of unmatched art, architecture, nature, and history (Basquiat and many other famous people are buried there).
I would also go to Greenwich Village and visit the Olive Tree Comedy Cellar. Some of the most amazing singers I have ever heard and the comics that you know on your TV will go here to try out their comedy before the big movie or show. You can end up having dinner with Ray Romano or Chris Rock.
Walk through the Lower East Side and Bushwick to see some of the best graffiti art in the world. Visit Williamsburg for vintage shops and restaurants that will blow your mind. Check out the Meat Packing District for the who’s who and visually beautiful nightclubs that look like you're placed in Sex and the City. Visit Harlem’s Amy Ruth’s for a real soul food experience and then Schomburg or Langston Hughes home in Harlem.