Diversity Apprenticeship Program

Preparator's Apprentice Nya Abudu packs a crate at the California African American Museum. (Photo by Kya Lou)

The Broad's New Diversity Apprenticeship Program Aims to Increase Diversity and Equity by Providing Job Training Opportunities to People from Underrepresented Communities and Groups

Have you ever wondered how The Broad’s giant artworks, like Balloon Dog (2010) by Jeff Koons or Robert Therrien’s Under the Table (1994), were installed in the museum’s galleries? Or how multidimensional installations like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) or Ragnar Kjartansson’s poignant, nine-screen video installation The Visitors (2012), were built inside the museum? 

A team of art-service professionals called art handlers (or preparators) play the crucial role of installing artwork and objects like these, ensuring that they are properly installed to show the works in their best light, and are carefully taken down and packed away. Preparators are trained to safely handle and care for artifacts and works of art, how to pack and unpack different types of artworks and objects, how to move them, and – especially with multimedia works – how to help bring the artist’s vision to fruition for museum visitors. Without an art handling team, a museum would not have works of art on its walls, objects on display, and the work of artists like Yayoi Kusama would not be fully expressed.

In contemporary art, art handling can pose unique challenges. “Because of the endless varieties of materials and media that contemporary artists use, preparators must develop an impressive and increasingly flexible range of skillsets. You have everything from sculptures that weigh several tons like Thomas Houseago’s Giant Figure (Cyclops), to works using animatronic technology like Jordan Wolfson’s (Female figure), or vast assemblage works like Elliott Hundley’s the high house low! with thousands of push pins, a magnifying lens and so many other things hanging off of it, to traditional works like paintings and photographs,” said Joanne Heyler, founding director and chief curator at The Broad. “On many days at The Broad, it is rare that an art handler simply hangs artwork on a wall and calls it a day.”

While art handling for museums has become more complex and demanding over recent decades, its workforce has become less diverse. A recent nationwide survey of museums by the Mellon Foundation revealed that 85% of preparators identify as white and more than 75% identified as male. The demographic shift seen gradually emerging in other areas of museum work was not being seen in the field of art preparation.

The Broad has set out to change this through the Diversity Apprenticeship Program (DAP). “66% of our visitors identify as non-white, and we believe that to best serve our audience – and to make contemporary art accessible to the widest possible audience – our staff needs to reflect their diversity,” said Heyler. “We created the Diversity Apprenticeship Program so that we could provide opportunities for people to gain the training and experience they need to pursue rewarding careers in the art world, and to increase respect for the field of art handling as a profession.”

After The Broad piloted a 2016 apprenticeship program, and found that its participants received valuable training they otherwise would not have received, we realized we could do much more. We launched the DAP, a much wider and more ambitious initiative, aimed to build diversity and equity within museum staffs across the nation by creating a replicable model. The Broad’s idea for the program won a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services – one of only 11 National Leadership Grants for Museums awarded by the institute in 2017.

What is the Diversity Apprenticeship Program (DAP)?

The DAP provides individuals from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in museum staffs with a nine-month, full-time paid apprenticeship that trains them in art preparation and handling – equipping them with the skillsets, knowledge and confidence they need for successful art handling careers.

“In recruiting for this program, we reached out to those in communities of color, those in Native and Indigenous communities, women, immigrants, people who’ve been formerly incarcerated, those who identify as part of gender-alt communities, said George Luna-Peña, program manager of the DAP. “And we hope to achieve an equally diverse set of applicants in our second round of apprenticeships.”

Because no college degree is required to take part in the DAP, it is accessible to a wider range of people, providing new recruits or current entry-level staff a pathway toward higher paying, mid-level positions. The program is meant to show people from underrepresented backgrounds that a career in the arts is a very real possibility. It was that aspect that struck home with Nya Abudu, who is one of the first eight apprentices in the DAP.

“One reason it felt daunting for me to find a job in the art field is that I just haven't seen people that look like me working as art handlers,” Abudu said. “So this program definitely makes me excited about seeing more people like me in the field.”

“After all, if you're going to have art from different cultures, it makes sense for the staff to reflect the art that's in the museum,” she continued. “For me, it makes a lot of sense to see more a diverse group of people working in museums.”

How the Program Works

The first goal of the DAP is to train 16 apprentices in two groups over three years to gain valuable skillsets through hands-on learning – with the intent of creating a climate of equity and opportunity for the art handling field and to help professionalize the field.

To start, apprentices go through a month of training. They learn what a preparator does and how to do it. This includes how to handle, install, and pack artwork and artifacts. They then rotate to partner sites to do hands-on work – all while going on field trips to museums and other cultural destinations to further their learning. The first group of apprentices is currently putting their skills to work at several partner sites across the city; from small nonprofit galleries, to large museums and institutions, to private partners, to art shipping companies and fabrication facilities. The second group of eight apprentices will begin in summer 2019.

“I was catching up with my sister the other day and she asked me, ‘How's work?’” said Abudu. “I was like: ‘Great! I love it!’ My sister said, ‘That's the first time I've ever heard you say anything positive about your work.’

“I’ve always felt this was the job for me,” said Abudu.

The Broader Goal

The second goal of the DAP is to drive long-lasting, industry-wide change. To that end, The Broad is creating a toolkit that enables other organizations to replicate our model, and our success. This toolkit will contain a host of materials, from a learning curriculum and training materials, to best practices for equitable hiring and inclusive work environments, to performance metrics to measure success and a manual of best art handling practices.

And it’s that look to the future – that vision of sharing a message of equity at every level of the arts – that most appeals to another of the apprentices, Vanessa Garcia.

“The DAP means opening up doors for so many other people who will come after me, people who have been disempowered for far too long,” said Garcia. “It means giving a voice to people who haven’t been heard or represented. It means taking steps in the direction towards a healthier society. This is what keeps me going, and this is the reason why I’m here.”

Looking Ahead

“We are planning on opening the application process a little earlier than we did last time to make sure even more folks have the opportunity to learn about the DAP,” said Luna-Peña.”I’m actually anticipating a larger pool of applicants, and I'm hoping it’s just as diverse as the first group!”

We encourage individuals from all underrepresented communities or groups to apply, including women, African American, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+ and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. You don’t need to have any college education or previous art handling experience!

If you have questions or need more information about the Diversity Apprenticeship Program, please contact George Luna-Peña, DAP Manager, at 213.232.6260 or glunapena@thebroad.org.