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Do You Have to Be an Expert to Curate an Art Exhibition?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 16, 2024
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You may think security guards only care about keeping the treasures on display at museums safe, but an upcoming project at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) aims to shed new light on that narrow perspective.

Security personnel at museums do prevent visitors from touching objects, but they actually spend most of their shifts answering questions about the artwork and helping visitors enjoy the pieces on display. In an innovative move, the BMA picked 17 security officers to be guest curators for an exhibition called “Guarding the Art,” set to open in March 2022. Choosing from roughly 95,000 artifacts in the BMA's collection, the security guards will assemble the show with staff experts offering expertise, with the goal of helping the museum bring diverse voices to the curatorial process.

More than just guarding the art:

  • “I was struck and moved by the extraordinarily personal, cogent arguments that each officer made for their selections,” says art historian and curator Lowery Stokes Sims, an advisor to the exhibition.

  • Besides selecting the works, the guards will have input in the installation design. They will also be involved in producing the exhibition catalog and will participate in the show’s accompanying public programs.

  • The show “will help change people’s perspective on us, and the artworks at the museum,” says Baltimore Museum of Art guard Alex Lei. “Security guards are literally against the background at museums. We walk by them, we know they’re there, but we don’t always realize that they’re more than just wall fixtures.”

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