Barnes Foundation Gets New CEO – That’s Chief ‘Experience’ Officer

by KYW tech editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The latest major acquisition by the Barnes Foundation is not a Matisse or a Cezanne but a Bernstein.

The museum has named Shelley Bernstein deputy director for digital initiatives and chief experience officer. She takes this newly-created position at the Barnes after nearly two decades at the Brooklyn Museum.

“You think about this idea that these walls are sacred in a way — they can’t change — that is a very interesting sort of user experience,” Bernstein says. “How do you get information to people? How do you think about that in terms of the experience that’s already here and that’s working that people really love? That kind of challenge is not something that comes along very often, and it was something that I got really interested in very quickly.”

One of her recent projects at the Brooklyn was an app that allows staff to answer visitors’ questions in real-time.

“But I have this funny feeling that screens are not an answer here,” Bernstein tells KYW Newsradio. “That’s kind of what I’m seeing, that people are more social, they’re more focused on what’s on the walls. It’s a tight space, so you don’t necessarily want people buried in anything.”

She says she’d like to innovate the Barnes’ indoor atrium to provide a more personalized experience — one that better orients the visitor to the journey on which he or she is about to embark.

“One of the things I think we’ll want to do, especially when thinking about a digital program, is how not to make it overwhelming,” Bernstein notes. “How to instead get you to focus maybe on one thing, in one room, one at a time so that you might have a different visit every time you come here to encourage repeat visitation.”

That’s one idea, but Bernstein says her collaborative discovery process — observations, member surveys, visitor conversations — will guide what’s next for the Barnes.

“What I get really excited about is how you tell that story to the public, she says. “To me, it’s just unlocking that story.”

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