Protection Services is a crucial department at the CMA, tasked with guarding our world-class collection of artworks and engaging thousands of visitors each year in meaningful ways.
Many of our guards are trained in a variety of roles. In addition to monitoring the artworks in the galleries for potential dangers, they assist visitors with questions about museum programming, help with directions, and make interactions memorable for the visitors they encounter. Our guard team can also be found in the parking booths as visitors enter and exit the garage, as well as at the security reception desk, where they greet and assist entering and exiting staff, contractors, and guests. Additionally, there is a dedicated security team that works all night to maintain the safety of the museum.
Each day brings with it a new assignment to a different part of the museum for most of the guards. This helps them stay familiar with the building and the artworks and to maintain fresh, alert security and safety perspectives around the museum. Our team works cross-departmentally, often collaborating with staff from the conservation, facilities, education, and collections management teams. Some days can be quite busy in the galleries, and when we are unable to prevent a visitor from physically interacting with an artwork, we report the incident to our partners in conservation so they may examine the art to determine if there are concerns to address. The education team is familiar with the guards, as we work together to protect the collection by reminding students to use their eyes, ears, and minds only to experience the art.
In recent years, we have evolved our role of providing just security in the galleries to being ambassadors of the museum who are able to give appropriate insights and information about the collection and the history of the museum to visitors. Guard Heidi Mell came to the CMA after spending 15 years teaching reading for grades K–12 in the Cleveland school system. Prior to that, she spent time raising her children, often taking them to the CMA for art classes. Mell brings her love of reading, education, and family into her role and is passionate about sharing information regarding CMA arts programming with visitors. One of her favorite aspects of her job is sharing facts she’s read about the artwork with visitors, enabling them to engage more deeply during their visit.
Everyone on our team is encouraged to make each interaction with visitors special, even if that only means offering a warm smile to someone who seems like they would rather be left alone. Being able to approach our visitors with a friendly demeanor also helps to more organically open a conversation with them about the reasons why touching artwork is not permitted, inviting visitors to be a part of the preservation of the collection. Additionally, guards are trained to handle a variety of emergency situations that may arise with visitors and staff, such as sudden illnesses, accidents, and evacuations.
One of the greatest things about a team our size (about 40 people) is the wealth of diversity in background. We have guards that hail from countries around the world, some of whom wear badges in the non-English languages in which they are fluent to help international visitors feel comfortable approaching them. Many of our guards are college students engaged in a variety of studies, while others are retired from long and rich careers in education, television and film, public and private security, and legal offices.
Artists make up a significant portion of our team. Guard Emily Funari worked in the art galleries at Case Western Reserve University before joining the CMA. Her love of the museum during her undergraduate studies allowed her to easily transition into a position in which she readily shares her knowledge of art and engages in enriching conversations with visitors. Funari is a photographer, focusing on collage, saturated colors, naturalism, and the surreal. She’s also a fire performer and emerging DJ at various festivals and music venues around Cleveland.
Guard Jaren Gilliam is an active fiber artist whose senior project as an undergraduate at Ohio Dominican was the creation of yarn to represent his lived experience. A collegiate athlete and passionate data enthusiast, Gilliam logged his running miles each day, then created yarn lengths that represented each run. By turning the yarn into balls and grouping them together, he created a visual representation of his running data and an alternate illustration of his embodied running journey. Postgraduation, he continues to log his running miles and to work with yarn alongside an active weaving practice.
A number of our guards have made long and wonderful careers in their positions of protecting the collection, and some of them have been with the museum for decades. In the galleries, in the parking garage, or behind the scenes, the CMA’s team of guards works diligently to enrich the experience visitors have and to preserve and protect the collection every day.