“Just please look past the uniform!”
Mostly silent and stone-faced, blending into their environment security guards are often disregarded by visitors. Yet, historically they are in good company: Jackson Pollock, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, and Mel Bochner, to name just a few, were security guards in museums before their names were added to the canon of art history. Be aware, the person in uniform advising you not to get too close to the art work might someday be an art star. Not surprisingly, Linda Smith—an artist who is a security guard herself—curated “Guardists,” an exhibition of works by her co-workers at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Since security guards generally only speak when spoken to, S2S interviewed Senior B. and Camisha B. to hear first hand about the trials and tribulations of a SG or “rent-a-cop.”
S2S: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Are you from NYC? If not, how long have you lived here? What’s your cultural background? What other languages besides English do you speak?
Camisha B.: As crazy as I look, I’m not from New York. I was born and raised in a small town by the name of Norristown, PA (about 15 minutes outside of Philadelphia). I’ve always wanted to live in New York as a child. When I got accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology to study Fashion Design, my dream came true. I’ve lived here for 4 years now, which has broadened my awareness of different cultures. I’m associated with many cultures, not just one. As a fashion designer, I am interested in French culture – it’s reflected in my outfits and speech. Oui, oui? English is the only language I speak fluently, but my strength in French and American semiotics is growing daily.
Senior B.: I am not from NYC, but I’ve lived here for 14 years now. I am originally from Jamaica, the parish of St. Elizabeth, to be exact. Our main language is English. We also speak Jamaican Patois, which is broken English enhanced by our dialect.
S2S: How long have you been a security guard at the Museum? How did you become a SG for the museum? Is it important to you that it is a museum versus another place?
CB: How I got this job was quite the experience… After my freshmen year in college, my financial aid was cut short and I had no money to live on campus in New York. So that summer, I got a job at my local Wal-Mart back home in Philly and tried to save up some money to eventually find an apartment. Unfortunately, I did not save up enough in time. School started that following fall semester and for the first week I was forced to commute from Philadelphia to New York. Two hours from and to Philly, 3 times a week was costly and insane! I had to find another way… My mother suggested that I stay at a shelter in NYC until I get back on my feet. My pride instantly got in the way, then I thought of my dream and why I came to NYC in the first place and I decided to go.
Surprisingly the 4 months that I spent in the shelter system were effective in me finding a home, courage and the job at the Museum. So, ultimately this job got me out of a tough situation in my life. As unbearable as this job gets at times, I can always say that I was worse off before.
I love working at a museum. I have met and worked with a wide range of interesting people that I have learned from. I try to see the good in working at this site. Which is what I stated below:
1.Surrounded by art!
2.Great place to think and daydream
3.Attend openings/meet celebrities
SB: I’ve been a security guard at the museum for over a year now. My mom was a security guard. I was in need of a job, so she put a good word in for me. That’s how I got started doing security. Yes, it is important to me that it’s a museum versus other places, because you’re constantly learning new things. The fun part for me is meeting celebrities.
S2S: Do you work any other jobs? Are you a student?
CB: Oui! I’m a full time student at the Fashion Institute of Technology where I specialize in Children’s Apparel. Outside of school, I work of course at the Museum but also as a Sales Associate, an on-call housekeeper, and an Independent Business Owner – catching my breath. I also intern with a children’s company that’s licensed under Disney and other major companies to make children’s graphics.
SB: No, this is my only job. I work full time. I am not a student at this moment – when the time is right, I will be.
S2S: What is one of the worst things about being a security guard? If you like, tell us a story about your worst experience and how you dealt with it.
CB: I tend to be a positive person, but as a security guard it’s like we are forced to think of the worse case scenario. Sometimes, we have to prejudge situations and even people. I hate that so much. I’m not judgmental. I’ve been profiled when entering public places, and I don’t want others to go through what I have experienced.
SB: The con about being a guard is that the job can be very dangerous – especially because you’re not armed. At this housing project in the Bronx where I once worked, shots were fired. I was almost hit – I ducked for my life. That was a very scary experience! After that scary night, I quit the job. I prefer the museum – any amount of money isn’t worth my life.
S2S: What is good about being a security guard (at the museum)?
CB: It’s like I’m getting paid to look at art! That’s probably the main reason why I like working at the museum. Soon, you start to become a reflection of what you are surrounded by (I try to tell myself).
SB: Well, you run into people from all over the world and the friendly ones sometimes share stories about where they’re from. Other then that, its just a job. Although, I do take my work seriously.
S2S: What are some of the misconceptions or stereotypes that you have encountered on the job?
CB: “Excuse me, Sir!” People constantly mistake me for a guy. Even if I’m wearing pearl and gold earrings, it seems like some people can’t see past the uniform I’m wearing. Unfortunately, people limit my knowledge and mistake my gender by what I’m wearing. People only think I know about what floor to find the bathroom or a certain exhibition. I see people sometimes hesitate to ask me information about an artist because they think that I might not know. That really hurts sometimes! Just please look past the uniform!
SB: Sometimes a visitor sees me standing in the lobby in my suit and bypasses me to ask another visitor questions about the museum! Sometimes I feel my age plays a factor. Other than that, I don’t sense any foul play on the job.
S2S: If you could change something about the job, what would it be?
CB: My pay! LOL! Enough said. This job isn’t paid well nor held in high regards – even though it should be.
SB: I would like everyone to be treated equal, not for their job title!
S2S: What are some of your interests? What do you do when you don’t work?
CB: This city is all about work! I came out here for a reason, but I’m constantly working to just make a living.
SB: I love cars, but when I am not at work, I just stay in or sometimes hang out with friends. I party a little.
S2S: What kind of music do you listen to? Movies you enjoy? Etc.
CB: Everyone needs to listen to the Belgium artist Stromae! He is my favorite international artist. However, my hidden treasure is P.O.S. aka the greatest rapper ever! With movies, I’m a sucker for romance and thrillers. I hate to be left in confusion at the end of a movie. For me, everything needs to make sense and have a happy ending.
SB: I listen to roots rock reggae and dancehall music – its only right, I am Jamaican! LOL. I enjoy comedies and certain documentaries.
S2S: What would you like people to know about yourself?
CB: Nothing much, if anything, if people can understand that I’m just like them, then that’s all that matters.
SB: I want people to know that I am a very serious but friendly young man who has a promising future. I am also an upcoming reggae artist/entertainer. I love my cultures’ music, so all I want to do is make my mark. I want people to remember me, when I am gone. Because it’s only love I preach!