As Vice President of Museum Operations at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Elliott Broom’s job is to do everything but manage the art. But what he does is an art in itself.
It takes a highly creative person to balance the responsibilities a 130-year-old institution requires including security, volunteers, events, food and visitor services, and group sales.
Broom was deemed suitable for the position when hired in August 2008 because of his background in hotel management complimented by his Bachelor of Science in Art History from the University of Michigan.
“I have to be able to change on a dime, juggle many priorities all at once, remain affable with colleagues…there are stress points coming up all over the place. I have to remain calm, see all sides and try to be a voice of reason,” Broom said.
“It’s not always hands on, but I have to be ready to roll up my sleeves at any point and jump in to help pull something off.”
Like the transformation of the Kresge Court into a “Cultural Living Room,” a project completed in 2013.
The space, made possible by a $268,500 grant from ArtPlace America, provides the community with refreshed, comfortable spaces to relax, drink, eat, have a quick meeting or hang out with friends. With technology supports, Broom said people can plug in or do the exact opposite and unplug to relax.
“I am passionate about food as well, and worked with our food service providers to create a completely different kind of menu,” he said. “We have never served food quite like we do in Kresge Court right now.”
Broom was part of the collective decision-making process with former Museum Director Graham Beal, Special Assistant for Community & Economic Development, and Detroit Revitalization Fellow at the DIA Brad Frost, and Detroit-based designer Patrick Thompson, among others.
“We worked through months upon months of meetings, addressing everything from the look and feel of the space to fabrics and layouts and iron work…we discussed every single facet,” Broom said.
“I loved every single minute of it. It was a fun and exhilarating experience to be able to help make decisions to bring the space to life. It’s exactly what we had hoped for.”
Broom said he has always appreciated architechture and interior design. He recalled a time during his childhood when he gave up playing with friends outside to sit in their parent’s family room to read Architectural Digest.
What a dream come true for the Detroit native decades later to live and work in the “Paris of the Midwest,” surrounded by groundbreaking and breathtaking structures designed by legendary architects such as Albert Kahn, Wirt Rowland, and John Portman.
“It’s an honor working in a building designed by Paul Philippe Cret and I love being able to see all the little details of it,” he said.
Some of those details, broken pieces of Vermont marble and degraded mortar joints, were badly in need of restoration. Since the millage passage in 2012 and the DIA’s survival of the bankruptcy chaos, Broom said the museum has moved forward with “greater levels of assurance financially that we can work on capital projects.”
Although Broom has traveled the country following job opportunities in the hotel and hospitality business, the city is home. He has happily settled into his job with the DIA, but also his home in the Midtown Detroit area where a “cool neighborhood culture and a sense of community” exists.
That’s important for a gay man who stayed in the closet while growing up in the 70s and 80s when he said hate crimes were common and police provided little to no protection. Broom did not come out until after he moved away.
“I can’t tell you what a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “When one has to hide, that’s an added burden that they have to carry with them and worry about every day. That can only stifle ones ability to just be themselves.”
Being true to himself and comfortable in his own skin has allowed Broom to be a role model to young people who are struggling with their identity.
“I would hope that they look at someone like me and say ‘you know what, he did it. He’s managed to become a confident leader in a revered organization and done so always being open,'” Broom said.
As the Board Chair for the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, Broom is familiar with the staggering number of LGBT youth who don’t have a home environment that will allow them to be their authentic selves.
“It’s painful to know this. I want nothing more, as we grow as a human race, that people will not have to endure the discrimination and fear of rejection that they do because of how they identify.”
It’s been said that art offers young people a lifeline and Broom gets to watch them connect with a variety of works every day.
“Something I’ve noticed is that they are naturally drawn to contemporary art,” he said. Specifically, one of Broom’s favorite paintings, the Officer of Hussars by Kehinde Wiley, a 39-year-old gay African-American artist. His work is a modern remake of the Theodore Gericault’s classic of the same name done in 1812. Gericault’s work shows a French soldier in uniform, complete with a brass-buttoned jacket and black fur hat.
Wiley is known for putting a classical spin on a contemporary subject. In this case, the heroic subject is a modern-day African-American man taking on the world in his Timberland boots, low-riding blue jeans and white tank top waving a sword atop a big white horse with a leopard-skin saddle.
“If we set up a hidden camera aimed at this painting, we would see droves of students on docent-led tours come to a halt in front of it,” Broom said. “They see unique settings that are foreign to them. The juxtapositions in this case or relevance of seeing someone that they can identify with is why they are so taken by it.”
Through programs like DIA Away and Inside|Out, the museum has become more accessible to all walks of life. In an effort to shift the “elitist view” of the museum, the DIA has extended the creative experience beyond the walls of the museum to its neighbors in Southeast Michigan, visiting schools, community fairs and festivals, and senior centers. Quality reproductions of famous DIA pieces have been placed in downtown areas of several Michigan cities.
The 2013 Community Outreach Report shows that one of the most visible outcomes of the millage is increased attendance. In 2013, 621,000 visitors enjoyed the DIA, compared to 498,000 in 2012.
“I am honored to work with the level of professionals that we have in this organization. Every single area of the museum is led by consumate professionals, experts in their fields…this translates into the programming and outreach that we do,” Broom said. “The DIA is a world-class museum not just because of the art, but also because of the people that are employed here who are really at the top of their game.”
The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. For more information, visit www.dia.org or call 313-833-7900.
Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
DIA members and residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties receive free, unlimited general museum admission (excluding ticketed events or special exhibitions) in accordance with the passage of the County Art Institute Authority millage. A valid Michigan driver’s license or state ID is required. $12.50 for adults, $6 for youth ages 6-17, $8 for seniors, $7 for college students with valid school photo ID, free for children five and under.