Anticipation — and some unexpected drama — marked the moments before the Broad art museum in downtown Los Angeles swung open its doors to the public Sunday morning for the first time.
Initially about 70 United Teachers Los Angeles union members in red shirts joined more than 100 ticket holders on the sidewalk outside the museum as the $140-million Grand Avenue landmark prepared to open.
“Arts for masses, fund our classes,” chanted the protesters, who were angry with museum founder Eli Broad’s support for charter schools. They handed out black-and-white fliers with Broad’s face on it and the message: “If you agree to serve me, I will let you see my art.”
For the record
An earlier version of this article said protesters were upset with Eli Broad for not fulfilling a promise on charter schools. Rather, protesters are upset for Broad’s support of charter schools.
“We just want to rain a little on his parade,” said Mike Scharf, a UTLA member. “Mr. Broad is putting himself forward as a great benefactor, but he’s not as kind as he says.”
Joanne Heyler, the museum’s founding director, responded to questions about the protesters by saying the Broad is dedicated to contemporary art that communicates different political and social issues.
“It would be hypocritical of us to discourage healthy debate, even though the Broads may not agree with their perspective,” she said, referring Eli and Edythe Broad. “Also, the Broads have dedicated enormous philanthropy to higher education and K through 12 public schools.”
The protest did little to dampen the excitement of visitors who had signed up weeks in advance for their timed tickets for opening day. The first two people in line were Bob Weitz and Dylan Tran.
“We’ve been following the museum for such a long time, watching the construction and the design, and we couldn’t wait to see this amazing collection in person,” Tran said.
At exactly 10 a.m., the first eight people in line were brought into the Broad’s lobby, where Heyler presented them with exhibition catalog, T-shirt and VIP tickets for future use.
“You’ve waited a long time in the heat in line, so we don’t want you to have to wait next time,” Heyler said.
She later described the scene as “an amazing day.”
“The private parties have been great, but this is the real deal,” she said. “The Broads have been collecting for over 50 years, and this is an incredible high point. I almost don’t have words.”
Outside, Nathan Cole, a 19-year-old Rio Hondo College political science student, waited in line with his mother. They walked over from the Cathedral of Lady of Our Angels down the street in hopes of getting same-day tickets.
“We’ve been coming to church for 11 years, and we’ve seen downtown L.A. revitalize and build more culture,” he said.
“I think they have noble complaints,” he said of the loud protesters, who had grown to number more than 200 shortly after the museum opened. But Cole added that he also appreciated the millions that the Broads have donated to arts and education.
At that moment, the cavernous lobby began to fill with dozens of people, largely silent, many seemingly entranced by the setting and magnitude of the moment. But then the crowd began to disperse, rising up the “Star-Trek"-like elevator and the cool, dark escalator to the skylighted galleries on the top floor.
Look for more updates later on the Broad’s opening day.