Some Detroit area museums stick it to selfie sticks

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Taking cellphone selfies in front of priceless art or historic artifacts is as common as buying a memento at the museum gift shop at the end of a visit.

But visitors should check with local museums before leaving the house with the latest must-have cellphone attachment: the selfie stick. Metro Detroit art institutions are split on whether to allow patrons to use them while roaming the galleries, with those opposed concerned about possible damage to priceless items.

The device, an adjustable clamp with a metal retractable stick and handle, attaches to a cellphone to give users a range of up to three feet to take the perfect-angle self-portrait. Nicknamed the narcissistick, 100,000 were sold in December alone, according to Bloomberg Business.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, with world-class paintings worth millions of dollars, is telling visitors to leave the selfie sticks in the car when they come to view van Goghs, Rembrandts and Fuselis.

"We don't allow anything on a stand," said Pam Marcil, public relations director at the DIA. "It's to protect the art. People don't pay attention and can back into a piece or bump into someone and potentially fall and injure themselves."

Gail Cohen, who coordinates tours at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, said that while selfie sticks aren't banned, the center doesn't encourage their use.

"This is an eye-opening experience for many, and I don't think the selfie stick is appropriate to use here," she said. "Also, we object to them because they can damage the artifacts."

The DIA is one of a number of museums around the country to ban selfie sticks.

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art recently did so and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is about to, according to the New York Times.

And at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, spokeswoman Kelly Carnes said museum officials didn't want to take any chances with stick-wielding visitors.

"We haven't had any issues in the past with them, but it was a popular holiday gift and we expanded the current policy that bans tripods and monopods," Carnes said.

While other Detroit-area arts institutions allow the accessory, voted by Time magazine as the best invention of 2014, the Detroit Historical Museum is reconsidering its policy of letting visitors bring them into the exhibit halls.

"Our displays are different. They are usually behind glass, as opposed to the DIA that has art out on walls," said Bob Sadler, director of marketing and sales. "Visitors can't get that close. But we will probably look at the idea since (the sticks) are more popular."

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn welcomes monopods, tripods and selfie sticks.

"We allow all camera equipment because most of our artifacts have some type of barrier around them," said Melissa Foster, the media and film relations manager. "I'm finding that most of the bans are at museums where the art is out in the open."

Officials at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle and the Cranbrook Institute of Science Museum in Bloomfield Hills said they haven't had an issue with selfie sticks and don't plan to ban them anytime soon.

Jacqueline Verdier, co-founder of New York City-based Selfie On A Stick, is not fazed that the accessory, which costs between $19 and $30, is being banned at museums and believes it's a testament to its popularity.

"As the use of a smartphone as a primary camera rises in popularity, coupled with the portability of Selfie On A Stick, we are just seeing an extension of policies that most museums already have in place," said Verdier. "We completely respect any museum's decision as to how they protect the works in their care. My business partner and I are huge art lovers, so we understand."

Jonathan Whiteaker, who teaches art history at Summit Academy North High School in Romulus, believes the selfie stick is a piece of equipment that keeps individuals too preoccupied with themselves.

"Having a selfie stick takes away from the social interaction of being out," he said during a recent trip with students to the DIA. "Asking someone to take your picture creates a conversation. The selfie stick deletes that."