Framed walkie talkie
In this day and age, protecting art is a complicated matter. Chris Seebach, Director of Facility Operation and Security, along with The Blanton’s Gallery Assistants, explain the ins and outs of museum security, and how this line of work offers more than one would imagine..
We’ve been to Paris, and you can’t touch art there either. This day and age, everyone has come to accept the idea of “security”. Security is an indispensable part of today’s world, most importantly in public gathering areas, whether we like it or not. Cultural institutions are reminded of this daily, from accidental or intentional damage to objects we display, theft, or even medical emergencies taking place in the galleries. It’s a necessity for us to be present, in this museum setting, walking, watching, and preventing.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply a job where we ask you to not touch the art. There’s an overabundance of policies to know and variables to manage when working in the cultural property protection field, commonly referred to by many security managers, as running our own little world. We, as museum guards, protect this collection for you, your kids, your grandkids, and their future kids too. We are The Blanton Gallery Assistants, and when you’re lost, we’ll guide your way. When you don’t understand something, we’ll help explain. If you happen to fall, we pick you up; and when you touch what we cherish most about The Blanton, we intervene, as it is our duty to prevent it from happening again. In order to help inculcate a sense of who we are and why we work here, please enjoy these excerpts from my extremely talented staff. They’re the reason I’m here, and I’m positive they’re one of the reasons you’ll keep coming back.

* “What I enjoy most about being a gallery assistant is meeting and listening to people who are excited to be in the museum. Some of them can be first time visitors, and others are veteran museum members. However, each time can be an equally rewarding experience for both. I personally most enjoy interacting with a first time visitor. The Blanton may be the first art museum this first time visitor has ever visited, and they often have similar questions to the artwork they find here. Although the questions are often identical, I never tire of responding because I see them excited and engaged with the experience. That really makes me happy, because I see the collection truly affecting them, and whether their response is a negative or a positive critique, I know they are being challenged to think and see in new ways. I believe this is how art truly functions. It is a means of communication that can inspire and move us all.”

* “When I first started working at The Blanton, I was under the impression that this would be a fairly static job in terms of what I could expect to encounter every day. However, I soon came to see that this was not the case; every visitor, docent, adult, and child has a different and fresh perspective on art, and by interacting with them and listening to their questions and own experiences with the pieces in our collection, I’ve learned that the art I am constantly surrounded by is anything but constant. Depending on visitors, weather, the events happening around town, or the general mood in the air, the feel of the art is shaped on a day-by-day basis by the environment of the museum, a realization that has opened up a new perspective to this position. And although it can be a little heartbreaking to inform a child that our two perspectives on climbing through 600,000 pennies might differ from one another, for the most part every day I spend as a gallery assistant is one I wouldn’t change for the world.”

* “I often have people ask “Is your job boring??” And I surprise them when I say no. Working as a museum guard while being an art student allows me to study art while working. Every day that I work I try to find something new in a painting, memorize a name for research, dissect the composition, critique and develop a more articulate stance on why I do not like a particular work of art. I also meet curators, educators and artists (that I probably would not have met otherwise) and make connections that I may need in the future.”

* “The most enjoyable part of being a GA is watching and listening to people react to various works of art. The elementary students have the freshest approach and I love the energy they bring to the galleries. Their engagement with the art is genuine and immediate. I have yet to see a young child roll his/her eyes and respond “I just don’t get it”. When describing art, they are not aware of unwritten rules constructed in the art world or sounding eloquent. For kids, looking at art can be humorous and exciting. That kind of energy is sometimes omitted from a museum environment and I am pleased that at The Blanton it is welcomed.”

* “I did not know exactly what to expect of the day-to-day work environment when I first joined the gallery assistant team at The Blanton, and now 4 years in, I can still say the same thing. Every day brings about new experiences and interactions that you can get in no other workplace. Walking the galleries all day long, surrounded by every type of artwork (whether it suits my tastes or not) is nothing short of spectacular. But beyond my own interactions with the artwork, the best experiences of each day are the conversations with or overheard by the public. On any given day, I get to experience seeing the excitement and awe of a new visitor or a long-time patron as they first see a new artwork, or when they return to see an old favorite. And when I get to visit with them or answer questions about particular works (whether it suits their tastes or not), really makes my day. Beyond the gallery spaces, we also get to experience every aspect of the behind-the-scenes magic of exhibition installations; from overseeing the delivery and unveiling of crates, to watching the planning and building of new layouts, to our very own private curator led tours; those experiences make me feel like I’m a backstage VIP. Each day holds a new surprise, and has the potential to enliven a new creative spark or learn something new about the art world, and the people who come to experience it.”

* “While working at The Blanton, I have not only learned a great deal about art history, but also have had the opportunity to meet amazing and talented people. My co-workers are the best a gallery assistants I could ask for, and I can sincerely say that I enjoy going to work there.”

* “Being a gallery assistant is a great job. To be surrounded by art and art lovers all day is an enjoyable experience. I love that I am able to walk through the galleries and learn something new about a different work of art each time. There is a lot of knowledge about art that can be gained from being a museum guard. Overall, I’d have to say that one of my favorite things about being a gallery assistant is getting sneak peaks to upcoming exhibitions and having our own special tours. It’s really a job that you can get a lot out of.”

* “As a Gallery Assistant at The Blanton, and therefore surrounded by the museum’s collection on a daily basis, you develop a deep appreciation for the art. And it’s a constantly shifting one. Different works will have different effects on you on different days. Certain pieces immediately resonate with you, while others build up from a steady hum eventually permeating your sensibilities. And that’s great to be engaged and affected in that way. Visual art is a language, and languages are best learned through continued exposure, so being immersed daily is the best part of the job.”

* “Walking around the galleries to enforce the rules of the museum is met with both defensive patrons and kind, understanding lovers of art. We have the advantage of people watching and seeing how viewers interact with works… And as long as it is in a hands off way, it is beautiful to see someone spend a good while in front of a piece that many people throughout the day rush past. Also, children love piles of pennies. ”

* “From European, Latin American, and Western art, to Greek busts and sculptures, The Blanton houses a variety of colorful pieces that makes one’s visit worthwhile. As a Gallery assistant we get to see firsthand, openings of new exhibitions, artists, and special events at The Blanton. The best part of all of these experiences is the patrons’ appalled or amazed reactions to our works of art.”

* “Every time a group of kids comes into the museum we all hold our breath a little just waiting for disaster to strike. Inevitably, there is at least one in every group that makes the chaos worthwhile. One of my favorite moments was talking to a little girl in the minimalist gallery as she came up to the Waltercio Caldas piece, a large piece of black granite cut in a simple rectangle curving down at each corner to rest on a point so it looks almost like it is floating. The girl asked me if it was art and I said “yes”. Her response was “That’s amazing!” It still makes me smile to think about.”

* “There are really so many things to enjoy about my job: I am in the presence of the art all day, being behind the scenes and seeing the inner workings of the museum, having the most incredible and talented co-workers on the planet. But if I had to pick one thing, I’d say it’s getting to witness, in real time, people of all walks of life connecting and having transcendent experiences with the art. They’ll turn to me with joy and wonderment and exclaim…..‘It’s amazing’! Gives me goose bumps every time.”

* “I love working at The Blanton. The creativity and ambition of my fellow gallery assistants (and all Blanton staff) is a daily source of inspiration.”

Some of them are even good at kickball.

2 Responses

  1. JAbreo says:

    Makes me really miss being a GA!

  2. Interesting to hear this perspective. We have visited many wonderful museum collections, but only at the Blanton have we consistently had our experience ruined by museum staff. It's one thing to protect cultural artifacts, but quite another to stare down patrons, following them with a foreboding glare from room to room, ready to pounce. Today my wife came come crying and furious from her latest visit. She brought our 2 year old daughter. Almost immediately, an attendant started the stare-down routine. Then, in an open area nowhere near any precious cultural artifacts, my girl dropped her teddy. The attendant pounced and proceeded to ball out my wife, her companion (UT Faculty), and even my two year old daughter. She even threatened to confiscate my daughter's precious teddy. In this way, they were made to feel very unwelcome at the museum and, again, spoiled what could have been a lovely visit. Several of our friends with children have shared similar experiences. Surely, there is a balancing act here, but it seems that some museum attendants take this idea that the museum is their "own little world" way too far. The art is for us to enjoy too. Especially for children. And even for Teddy.You might be inclined to moderate this comment away as a negative sentiment, but please do consider sharing my concern with your colleagues. It's not ok to treat people that way.

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