Last month, European and American art curator Theresa Papanikolas and Asian art curator Shawn Eichman led a series of tours for the security and volunteer and visitor services (VVS) staff. We all work amidst an amazing art collection, but not all of us have art history degrees. The tours are part of the museum’s ongoing goal to constantly improve the visitor experience, and are designed to educate the museum’s front line so that they may communicate to visitors two things:
- We have an incredible and historically significant collection of art.
- It is of utmost importance that we preserve these works so that future generations may enjoy them as we do.
Nobody at the museum is lacking in appreciation for the collection, but hearing about the art from a curator’s perspective can be refreshing. “Our [VVS] and security teams are the first staff encountered by visitors to the museum, and it is rewarding to see them convey their enthusiasm to our community,” says Eichman. “Working together, it is our privilege to share with visitors what a tremendous resource we have here for appreciating the finest accomplishments of cultures around the world and throughout time. When people realize the quality of the museum’s collection, we believe that they naturally will feel a high level of respect for it, and be greater invested personally in taking care of it and ensuring that it will be available to future generations.”
Papanikolas explains that protecting the collection does not mean limiting access to it. “We initiated the walk-throughs as a way of empowering our frontline staff to help our visitors enjoy the museum while being mindful of collection safety—in other words, ‘guard’ the collection, but in a friendly way,” she says. “We have been having a lot of fun not only sharing knowledge about the collection with our colleagues, but also empowering them to become informed stewards charged with protecting the treasures on view and informing our public about them.”
If going on a docent-led tour can be likened to watching a movie, touring with a curator is like getting an extended cut of that movie on Blu-ray with extra bonus features. They offered behind-the-scenes insight into the history of certain pieces, and revealed the sense of danger they feel when they, for example, find out from security how many scuff marks are on a pedestal that supports a priceless artifact.
Security officer Cyril Ruthenberg came away feeling part of an important group effort. “It is good to be reminded that no one department can protect our collection. It takes all of the departments working as a team to ensure its safety,” he says. “I hope that we get to participate in more of these walkthroughs where we can experience the curators’ excitement about the art so that we may share it with our visitors.”
Visitor services manager Kim Hutchison shared the importance of connecting to the art. “Theresa and Shawn instilled in us a sense of ownership by communicating how fortunate we are to be stewards of the collection,” she says. “As the frontline staff, it’s not only our jobs to get our visitors excited about art but also to ensure that we can help educate them in the best way to keep it preserved for generations to come.”