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Ido Bruno: Changing things up at the Israel Museum

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Ido Bruno (Eli Pozner photo)

Ido Bruno was an unusual pick to become the newest director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In 2017, following a tumultuous transition period in which two different directors swept in and out of the role within a year, museum officials selected Bruno, a 56-year-old tech-focused designer and professor with little curatorial experience, to head the national institution, which hosts a collection of 500,000 pieces of art and archeology.

Bruno spoke with The CJN over the phone from the Toronto airport, moments before he flew back to Israel following a brief visit.

Before you joined the museum, you were a designer with no management or fundraising experience. You even called your hiring an “experiment” in an interview last year. How has the experiment been going so far?

Well, as far as I can tell, it’s working very well. I think the parts where I was less experienced are going quite well. I never managed a big organization before, but I did manage projects with quite a lot of people under me, so it’s not a totally different experience.

What was the biggest learning curve?

The learning is mostly in the sense of how to run a 400-plus-person organization – getting people motivated in the right way, transcending obstacles that have to do with organizational structure, organizational culture. This is a great place, but always there are things to polish and hone.

How did you go about learning how to manage 400 people?

There is something in being a designer and working with teams of people from different disciplines that really prepares you to work in a big organization with different units and different departments. So in this sense, I didn’t feel like it was something totally new. The work is not that different from being the designer for a high-tech company, which I did for a while. It’s about getting people to work together, removing obstacles, giving people confidence that they can show their skills and abilities.

You’re coming up on almost two years in this role. Did you set any goals for yourself that you wanted to accomplish by this time?

The most important goal that I set for myself was to embark on a strategic planning process for the museum. It took a little bit of time, because there was team-building to do. As we speak, we’re choosing the firm to accompany this process and we’ll be embarking on it very soon.

With regards to fundraising, I read that donations comprise 60 per cent of the museum’s budget. Is that still the case?

Donations are about 50 per cent now. We’ve actually had a good increase in self-income. These have been a very good two years for the museum – the number of visitors is on the rise. More visitors came into the museum in the first six months of 2019 than any other first six months in the history of the museum.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s a combination of diverse programming – the museum really caters to many communities, many tastes – that’s really interesting for many Israelis, but also for tourists. About 50 per cent of our visitors are from abroad.

So the second contributing factor is the rise in tourism. Tourism is very good in Israel now. I hope it stays that way – this is always very strongly connected to the security situation.

We’re also investing a lot in our events for the general public. We’re in the midst of a very nice program of workshops for families looking for things to do at the end of the summer, after summer camps are finished, and that’s been immensely successful.

If 50 per cent of visitors are foreigners, the other 50 per cent are Israelis. I read that you’re hoping to attract more young Israelis, more Israelis interested in technology. Have you been successful so far?

I’m now getting a good sense of which exhibitions are attractive to teenagers and younger people. We had the Zoya Cherkassky exhibition a year ago, a young Russian-born Israeli artist, and her art was very attractive to our younger audience. Ongoing, we have Manifesto, a video installation by Julian Rosefeldt starring Cate Blanchett playing 13 different characters. That is also very, very successful with younger audiences.

Regarding technology, we’re experimenting with different things. We have what we call a “robot in the gallery,” but really it’s a little vehicle with a microphone and a camera and a screen that is controlled from a distance by a child in a hospital ward. It’s a pilot project that’s been very successful, and we’re now moving into what I would call an R&D phase, developing it into a very efficient and reliable tool.

We will be doing some programming around it, allowing any person who cannot physically come into the museum to enjoy a live tour of the museum that they control – they actually move the vehicle around the gallery with an accompanying guide and can speak to people in the gallery, they can interact. I think museum visiting is a social and interactive experience for most people, so it’s very important that people can have that experience, even if they’re bedridden in a hospital, or maybe they’re prisoners or people who cannot move easily.

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My final question: what brought you to Toronto?

We have a wonderful Canadian friends association, which is centred in Toronto. They have a yearly event, a pop-up museum, which is actually quite innovative. Instead of doing a sit-down dinner or a gala like many friends associations do, they actually manage to infuse their members, who are art collectors.

For one night, they bring in some of their beautiful artwork to a space – a large commercial space turned into an art gallery. It’s like having a very beautiful cocktail party in a gallery setting with some beautiful art around us that comes from people’s homes. That was last night, and it was just spectacular. This is the fourth year it was happening. Every year, they say this will probably be the last year, but everybody’s having such a good time that they continue doing it, and I’ll continue coming to Toronto every year for the event.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.

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