Baltimore Museum Debuts Art Exhibit Curated by Its Own Security Guards

“Guarding the Art” was created by guest curators from the Baltimore Museum of Art’s security department.

Guarding the Art Exhibit
Photo: Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

A new art exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art is giving a voice to individuals who have devoted years of their lives to protecting the art on display. "Guarding the Art" features 25 works from the museum's greater collection, selected by 17 former and current members of the museums' security team.

The exhibit, which will be on display from March 27 through July 10, gives guests the opportunity to see art through the eyes of the people who spend their days watching over it. The exhibit highlights the unique perspectives of the security officers and their reflections on the pieces based on their many hours spent in the galleries, their interactions with visitors, and their personal stories and interests.

The exhibit got its start last year when BMA trustee Amy Elias had a conversation with Dr. Asma Naeem, one of BMA's chief curators, about how the museum's security department probably spends more time with the museum's art than anyone else.

"I went home at night, and I thought, well, wouldn't it be interesting to hear from the guards about what pieces of work they find most meaningful?" Elias told CNN.

After polling the security team to see who would be interested in contributing to the exhibit, 17 security officers joined the curation team and began the year-long process of creating an end-to-end exhibit experience. After proposing their top three choice for inclusion in the exhibit, they worked with curators, conservators, and exhibition designers to learn about each work, its condition, and presentation requirements before making final selections.

Guarding the Art Exhibit
Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

They also participated in designing the exhibit layout, producing catalogue content, and developing public programming and tours for the new exhibit. And like with any other museum curator, the "guest" curators were paid for their expertise.

When "Guarding the Art" held its opening night last month, it was the culmination of months of hard work and careful planning from people like Traci Archable Frederick, a U.S. Army veteran and former member of the Maryland National Guard, who has worked at BMA since 2006 and Rob Kempton, a six-year alum of the security department who was so inspired by the museum that he got a degree in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University after joining the museum security team in 2016.

"Guarding the Art is more personal than typical museum shows as it gives visitors a unique opportunity to see, listen and learn the personal histories and motivations of guest curators," Elias said in a release. "In this way, the exhibition opens a door for how a visitor might feel about the art, rather than just providing a framework for how to think about the art."

In addition to providing a new perspective on art, Naeem said the exhibit serves a greater purpose in challenging short-sighted notions of whose voices are or should be represented in museums.

"It's asking some very profound questions about who is art for? Who are museums for? Who gets to talk about the arts? Who holds the knowledge? Are there other kinds of people who have knowledge about art that we want to be hearing from? And the answer is: Yes, absolutely," she told CNN.

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"Guarding the Art embodies the good that can happen when an institution aligns itself to a just and equitable cause," museum director Christopher Bedford wrote in his forward to the exhibit's catalogue. "This project has been so much more than the creation of an exhibition. It has been an extraordinary period of transformative learning in ways both expected and entirely without premeditation."

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