Previous: weekend openings at dorsch, snitzer, and steinbaum (6)

Next: shrub's art (7)

the royal ontario museum responds; so do i

Post #290 • June 2, 2004, 7:03 AM • 2 Comments

From: Francisco Alvarez
Date: Fri May 28, 2004 9:54:02 AM US/Eastern
To: Franklin Einspruch
Subject: ROM's no-sketching policy

Dear Mr. Einspruch:

Thank you for letting us know about the posting on For your information, I am circulating it among the senior managers of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

The article, I think, neglected to mention that the sketcher in question received a full refund (after he had been in the exhibition for 90 minutes) and an apology. The no-sketching policy is posted on a prominent sign at the beginning of the exhibition. Some of the artifacts are not encased and are therefore vulnerable to inkmarks etc.

While we agree that there is great educational and artistic value in sketching, I would like to explain the ROM's reasons for this policy. The no-sketching policy exists to protect the artifacts and keep circulation freer for all visitors' enjoyment, especially on the weekends (our busiest time, when Mr. Witalis decided to visit). In certain cases, it is also a condition of the copyright held by the owners of the objects, which we are legally obligated to enforce.

In our experience, it is better to use a single policy that is in force for all exhibitions, rather than confusing people by allowing sketching (or photography) in some cases and not others. This also reduces the burden on our security officers at peak times.


Francisco Alvarez
Director of Communications
Royal Ontario Museum
From: Franklin Einspruch
Date: Fri May 28, 2004 3:33:58 PM US/Eastern
To: Francisco Alvarez
Subject: Re: ROM's no-sketching policy

Mr. Alvarez,

Thank you for getting back to me, and for circulating my post among your senior managers.

The article mentioned the refund, but not the apology. At issue here is not your treatment of Mr. Witalis personally, which I'm sure was professional.

The no-sketching policy exists to protect the artifacts? From what, scrutiny? There is a wide range of indelible, caustic, and otherwise destructive materials that one could smuggle into the museum if one wanted to damage a work of art. What kind of attack does the ROM think it is preventing? If I wanted to put ink on a work of art, I could do it as easily with a writing pen as a sketch pen, and I'm led to understand that taking notes is allowed in the British Museum exhibit. Or is everyone's pen being confiscated upon entry? Are your visitors being frisked for pocketknives and whisky flasks full of acid?

As for your circulation, I would suggest that the ROM is concerned with quantity of looking without considering quality of looking. People who engage in prolonged visual study of your work will be the ones on whom it has the most impact. And I've never seen circulation interfered with by an artist. I was just at the National Gallery in Washington, where artists were allowed to set up oil painting stations and produce copies right in front of the art, and even there I was able to get in front of everything I wanted to see. Because the artists were engaged in the work, people engaged with the artists, and there were wonderful exchanges. The ROM's concerns about circulation will make sure that such exchanges never happen.

I realize that you are legally obliged to honor the terms of your contract with the British Museum. I'm saying that this stipulation preventing the viewing public from sketching the work is an atrocity. The ROM ought to be ashamed of itself for agreeing to it, and the British Museum ought to be ashamed of itself for obliging it of you. I hope your managers exercise better judgment in the future.


Franklin Einspruch

No response as of yet.




June 2, 2004, 4:22 PM

Well, Franklin, here's my response:

Lame, pitiful, and insulting rationalization of an indefensible policy that has NOTHING to do with what a museum is meant to be about, and everything to do with extraneous considerations, chiefly commercial ones. I hope the Ontario arts community makes it exceedingly uncomfortable for the ROM to persist in disgracing itself this way.


mary agnes

June 9, 2004, 5:02 PM

Why not consider stepping back and looking at the whole view of exhibitions and visitor restrictions? A good place to get a snapshot of this sort of thing is the Museum-L discussion list. There is also an art museum director's association. I don't have their webiste address handy but it can be reached by contacting The issue of restrictions on visitor activity is a hotly debated one in the museum community. So having a history of this might be helpful.

In addition if one wants to widely advocate for the artist-visitor (unless AGO is setting precedent here there are other such problems out there) the background info would be necessary preparation.

I will tell you that museum staff who handle art are universally forbidden from using pens when working with the art (such as doing reports on the condition of the work). So the pen restriction has that history. But i have always encouraged (as a curator)students to draw in front of the art and have not thought about checking to see if they were using pens or pencils. Naughty me!

Keep in mind that recent years have seen lots of discussion about the other activities that take place in galleries and their potential for damaging the art. Parties and the serving of food and various beverages are an ongoing challenge as museums are increasingly attempting to connect with the audience through such activitites and in some cases fundraise through such parties. And programming in museums has gotten very broad with a wide range of activities taking place in galleries that would seem to have nothing to do directly with the art but that accomplishes our task of turning our museums into community centers.



Other Projects


Design and content ©2003-2022 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted