Bedford sees the informal mentorship of “Guarding the Arts” as one of its most crucial elements – a way to explore, and perhaps ultimately change, the way the museum has operated historically.
“There are aspects of how we operate that just need to be completely reversed,” he says, referring to broader themes of equity, representation and shared fatherhood. “That’s one way to do it.” (According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, in 2018 only 4% of curatorial positions in American art museums were held by African Americans.)
“[Mentoring] is the engine that propels this forward,” Naeem says of the exhibit, “to maybe create new futures and new careers for some of the guards. These guards, she says, “are a real mirror to the public.”
Sara Ruark, a native of Baltimore, who came to the BMA in 2018 and studied film at Towson University, agrees, seeing the guards as something of a bridge.
“WE ARE NOT JUST SEEING WHAT IS HAPPENING
IN THE MUSEUM, BUT WHAT IS
ON-GOING IN THE COMMUNITY.
“We are both outsiders and insiders,” says Ruark, who selected Dutch painter and sculptor Karel Appel’s 1962 painting “A World in Darkness,” as well as a mid-20th-century miniature totem pole by an unidentified Haida artist. she had already seen. “We don’t just see what’s happening in the museum, but what’s happening in the community.”
It gives the exhibit a sense of accessibility, she says, that’s especially relevant to Baltimore’s multi-faceted arts community.
“I think people who don’t realize how rich the art world is here give Baltimore a lot of flack,” Ruark says. Beyond major institutions and exhibitions, “[There are] local artists selling stuff under a simply beautiful bridge, craft shows in decrepit churches, I love it in this town.
Although this isn’t the first time a museum has held an exhibition with the participation of its own security guards – the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition called “Beyond the Uniform” in 2020 which included a list reading from his guards – Bedford says the BMA show was not modeled on anything else.
“It was modeled around the idea that sharing curatorial authorship around our hierarchy would yield really unexpected results,” he says. “[Baltimore] is a place that is willing to embrace unorthodox ideas. It’s bold, a bit quirky… I really hope this will be the first of many exhibits that will be designed in an unconventional way, by guards or otherwise. I think it can become a hallmark of the museum.
“It was lucky to have a real tangible project, with real feedback and results,” says Kempton, who looks forward to seeing Hartigan’s 1957 abstract painting “Interior, The Creeks” and the work of Thomas de 1972 “Evening Glow” exhibited. “Dr. Sims said this show is both empowering and depriving. It demystifies the whole museum process. Seeing that and playing a meaningful role in it is important.
Presented until July 10, the exhibition will present up to 26 objects. At press time, an opening reception was still being planned.
Traci Archable-Frederick, a Baltimore native who served in the U.S. Army and Maryland National Guard before joining the BMA in 2006, chose Mickalene Thomas’ “Resist #2” in 2021 because she wanted a piece that reflects the times, amid the coronavirus pandemic and in relation to the protests that have swept the country following the murder of George Floyd.