AIArtArt Inquisition

Art Inquisition: GUARDS! …Guards?


For the last few months, guards at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston have been protesting an increasingly “militarized” role that takes them away from the art and implements an elaborate system of cameras.

As a part of the Museum Independent Security Union (MISU), the guards are unhappy with the MFA’s proposed scheduling and training regimens. Instead of maintaining their usual, personable patron interaction and the flexible schedules that allowed guards to maintain second jobs and adapt to childcare needs, “[t]hey want us to not focus on the artwork and be able to fight things like active shooters,” said MISU president Evan Henderson.

The union says the changes proposed by museum management would place guards in attics, offices, and the exterior of the museum rather than in the galleries with patrons. A state-of-the-art, predictive camera system would sound an alarm system before patrons come into contact with sensitive, delicate artworks, but many are unconvinced that people pay proper attention to the alarms. Additionally, the guards have historically provided a personable source of information about the art that some fear will be lost with increased reliance on remote alarm systems.

“They’re going to be relying heavily on camera surveillance, taking the guard responsibilities away from protecting the art, and taking away visitor interactions from the guards, which is basically the reason why we all got this job.”

– Evan Henderson, MISU president

That the museum is seeking to enhance its guard training and security operations was confirmed by PR director Karen Frascona, who told the Boston Globe that “[i]ndustry-standard training in areas such as emergency preparedness, conflict resolution, and security operations is included in the MFA’s current plan.” She also said the museum would begin standardizing the guards’ schedules into three regular shifts as of January 3.

“If there are not enough guards available, then galleries don’t get covered,” 19-year veteran of the MFA Gary McManus told DigBoston. “Many of the reports we get from our command center are from galleries where there are no guards visible, and people take chances and touch things they normally wouldn’t.”

McManus also pointed out that the museum’s current exhibit posts four guards in its gallery due to requirements of the loaning institutions and individuals. “What do they know that our director does not?”

The MISU contract expired on June 30, 2015. Though it was extended until March 31, 2016 (or until a successor contract is negotiated), a veteran guard was recently fired after being refused a request for a four-day unpaid leave.

Additional coverage of this story may be found at Hyperallergic, and the MISU has a Facebook page

So what do you think? Are people more likely to get grabby with the art if they don’t think they’re being watched? Should the guards accept the changing nature of their position in light of changing technology? Is museum management edging people out of jobs with their proposed changes? Is art better protected by people, alarm systems, or some combination of both? How do you prefer to interact with gallery artworks?

The Art Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab reader. It appears on random days at 3pm ET… Because NOBODY EXPECTS THE ARTIST INQUISITION!

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Beth Voigt

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and public transit and is still on her first smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around.

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