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Art Museum Security Guards Are Moonlighting as Curators To Arrange a Special Exhibition

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has invited a group of unlikely curators to organize an exhibition. The institution tapped guards from its security department to collaborate with leadership and staff, and they selected works that will soon be on view in a show aptly titled Guarding the Art.

Working with art historian and curator Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, the 17 officers picked to participate present unique curatorial perspectives. Many of the officer-curators are engaging in other pursuits and have life experiences outside of the art world; they used their backgrounds to guide their choices.

Kellen Johnson has been a guard at the BMA for nearly nine years, and he’s also pursuing a vocal performance degree at the local Towson University. Music informed what he chose. “I asked myself, ‘If these paintings could sing, what would they sound like?'” he shared. Artist Hale Woodruff’s 1928 painting entitled Normandy Landscape sang Mozart to him. “Made me think about walking along a row of trees on a darkish day.”

Traci Archable-Frederick, a veteran who has worked at the BMA since 2006, wanted her choice to reflect “the ongoing protests and racial tensions in the U.S.” She selected a piece by Mickalene Thomas called Resist #2 that was created in 2021. It features glitter alongside an American flag adorned with the words “I can’t breathe,” and the composition also includes the face of the author James Baldwin. “Everything I want to say is in this piece,” Archable-Frederick said.

While the guards enjoyed the curation process (and got paid to do so, in addition to their regular salaries), it was also an eye-opening experience for Dr. Sims who has spent 50 years enmeshed in the art world. “I was so energized and enthused to hear these extraordinary personal reactions to art. It was so beyond the art-speak that I'm used to. It was fresh, immediate, personal, and perceptive. It happened to me at a point when I really needed to be energized about art again.”

Guarding the Art opens March 27, 2022, and will be on view until July 10, 2022.

The Baltimore Museum of Art has an exhibition coming up called Guarding the Art, which is a show completely curated by security guards at the institution.

Baltimore Museum of Art: Website | Instagram | Facebook
h/t: [NPR]

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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