Walk in Their Shoes

By: deanna on April 29th, 2009

The Woodson Art Museum employs fifteen security staff members who work regular part-time hours or a flex schedule – and each of them has my greatest respect.

Their duties pull them in two directions every time they come on duty. Why?

First, the guards’ primary responsibility is to protect the artwork on view and provide a safe environment for visitors. Second, we ask that they offer helpful, courteous assistance to those who come to the Woodson.

You can see how these two tasks might conflict on occasion, causing the guards to develop a “good cop/bad cop” persona.

It takes equal measures of backbone and discretion to tactfully remind someone about the Museum’s no-touching policy or ask that a visitor take their cell phone conversation to the main lobby. Think it’s easy to prompt youngsters (and adults!) to use their inside voices in Art Park? Or to refrain from using a camera in the galleries? Or to dispose of a water bottle or cup of coffee before heading into an exhibition? Or ask a visitor not to climb on a sculpture (except the hippopotamus, who loves to have “riders”!)?

It isn’t. Yet the Woodson security team deals with these and other “sticky wickets” every day. At the same time, they are helping visitors with audio tour questions, helping them locate restrooms or exits or the elevator, tidying up Art Park, making sure the video equipment is running smoothly, reporting burned-out light bulbs, encouraging youngsters to use an Activity Guide, filling the literature racks, and the list goes on.

All this while trying to stay in the background and not interfere with visitors’ experiences with artworks…until they see a Museum rule being challenged.

Two times in the past I’ve touched an artwork or artifact and had a guard step in to do his job. The first time was in Spain and I didn’t have to speak the language to know I’d committed a no-no. The second time was at Heritage Hill in Green Bay when curiosity overcame me and I opened a door in a floor to get a look into the basement area. Oops. The tour guide gently reminded me about not touching things in the historic building. Even my husband reminded me!

OK. I know we’re all human and subject to the occasional slipup or lapse in judgment, so when guards at the Woodson or another museum do their job by implementing the rules and regs, please understand the “why” behind the reminder or request.

Then let it go, move on, and enjoy the rest of your visit.

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