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June 4, 2012

Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry Editorializes about Help Wanted Advertisement at the Guggenheim

by Virginia M. Curry, Guest Contributor and Editorial

It’s June, and the newly graduated crop  of art historians buoyant with their expectations and burdened with six digit tuition loans pour out of college nationwide seeking employment. However these students now confront a dilemma which was certainly never experienced by the original art historian, Giorgio Vasari.
Museums are no longer sanctuaries for art education and appreciation.  Museum directors are now much more likely to have a business degree than an art history or anthropology degree.  Exhibitions are now mounted as though they are infomercials for automobiles and lifestyle products such as cars and dresses.

One of the richest museums in the United States just recently fired their staff of art educators in favor of replacing them with a “robust” and free volunteer force of docents.  The prices paid by this institution for art at auction are ever record shattering while the value of the art educator is reduced to zero.  Could this possibly get worse for the art historian and educator?  Yes, it has.

This week I received a listing of positions presently available for art historians.  Frankly, most of these offer the opportunity to relocate to New York and work for free or at a salary which is less than the national poverty level.  It is absolutely appalling to think you could actually qualify to live on food stamps.

Please note below this original current job opening, posted on for an “art guide” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In this instance, the Guggenheim proposes that the art educator, who is "preferably bilingual" also perform the duties of a security guard!

This new commentary reduces the post graduate art history education to an expensive and frivolous indulgence which qualifies you to either work for free as a docent or "stand for long hours" as a sort of art informed  security guard at the Guggenheim.  Should security guards be insulted?  Will art historians be distracted?

As both an art historian and a licensed security consultant it is my opinion that this concept is wholly ridiculous and will create a new breeding ground for internal theft by employees who are both underpaid and angry and have access to exhibits.  It is my professional experience that when university and museum managers (who were far better compensated than these guards) felt that they were entitled to more compensation for their education and performance,  they exploited the weaknesses of their facilities and raped the collections.  Two examples easily come to mind: Dr. Patrick T. Houlihan former director of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles and Professor Jane Crawford, Director of Graduate Honors program at UCLA.  These individuals exploited their facilities and embezzled art and artifacts. Neither of these individuals was asked to be bilingual and stand guard for hours for menial pay in New York City. Both of these "professionals" were convicted at trial of their thefts. They explained to family and accomplices that they were motivated by anger and resentment of the poor compensation they received for their education and experience.

Current Job advertisement from
Gallery Guides

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York, New York
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is seeking Gallery Guides. Gallery Guides serve a dual role as both security guard and art educator.  They are responsible for the security and safety of the artwork and of visitors, and for actively encouraging visitors to discuss their questions and ideas about art.  They are trained and certified in compliance with New York State Certification regulations, and trained as a gallery educator to the standards of the museum's Education department.  They are required to attend and actively participate in all trainings (paid) in security guard procedures, education techniques and exhibition content.  As frontline staff, they are required to maintain a welcoming and professional attitude towards visitors and staff at all times.  Annual performance evaluations will be conducted jointly by the Director of Security and Senior Manager of Adult Interpretive Programs. 
* Provide security during public hours in accordance with established security procedures; keep visitors at prescribed distances from artwork; monitor the flow of visitors in the galleries and report any incident involving visitors touching or damaging art work. 
* Provide for the safety of staff and visitors on the museum's premises during public and non-public hours; assist with evacuation during emergencies; report problems, suspicious activity and safety hazards to a Supervisor and/or Assistant Supervisor.
* Thoroughly prepare for all exhibitions; actively encourage and discuss questions from visitors about current exhibitions, the collection, the Frank Lloyd Wright building, the museum and its history; respond to visitor queries about practical matters such as directions.  
* Overtime is offered but not required.
Qualifications and Requirements:
* A firm schedule of 4 or 5 days, must be available Friday and Saturday
* BA/BFA in art history, studio art, museum education or related field required; MA/MFA encouraged to apply.
* Ability to stand for multiple hours
* Ability to remain alert at all times
* Must qualify for the New York State Security Guard Certification.
* Experience with security issues preferred.
* Professional demeanor and commitment to museum policies, procedures and security/education philosophies.
* Strong interpersonal and communication skills; experience working with the public required, teaching experience preferred.
* Solid working knowledge of modern and contemporary art.
* Bilingual a plus.
* References required.
The Guggenheim offers a competitive salary and excellent medical, dental, life, disability and pension plan coverage.  Our staff also enjoys generous vacation, sick leave and personal days, access to a variety of cultural institutions, discounts to museum stores and a stimulating and collegial work environment.
Qualified applicants please send your resume, cover letter, including salary expectations, and three references to Indicate the job title "Gallery Guides" in the subject line.  Only those applicants who meet our requirements for this position will be contacted.
Sadly, it is now easier and far more lucrative to work at McDonald' s where the only educational requisite is the ability to make a hamburger from a photograph of a hamburger.  I understand that McDonald's also has great job security, health benefits,  and probably better opportunities for advancement.



I almost applied for this - having been a tour guide and studied library science. I thought the security requirements were bizarre. I pictured myself as a combination of Jack Bauer and Clement Greenberg... on foodstamps.

Nice post.