Safety Officer Elise Tensley on Curating and Constructing Camaraderie

Q&A with Elise Tensley, safety officer on the Baltimore Museum of Art.

What does your position as a safety officer entail?
I primarily guard the museum’s assortment, ensuring folks don’t contact or danger damaging the artwork. However I additionally form of be certain that visitors have a very good expertise, together with giving them instructions to what they’re in search of. I do my greatest to verify all people is protected.

How did Covid-19 have an effect on your work?
When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, the museum shut down after which slowly reopened late final summer season into the autumn, earlier than having to close down once more. We’ve been teetering between working safely and being open so that folks can have some escape and a way of normalcy.

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We had been extremely lucky that the BMA paid its entire employees full time, your complete time. We even obtained biweekly telephone calls simply to verify we had been mentally and bodily properly. I can’t actually guard the artwork from residence, besides the BMA went out of its technique to care for us. The safety division, in addition to a number of different front-of-house departments, actually benefited from that. The time away gave lots of people the prospect to hone their very own crafts. Some additionally reached out to different departments that had been nonetheless functioning and acquired just a little bit extra educated on how they function and intersect with our jobs. And for these of us who’ve youngsters and had been thrust into new at-home roles, it gave us stability and the flexibility to deal with them as we skilled the pandemic collectively.

The exhibition “Guarding the Artwork,” which is scheduled to open on March 27, options works chosen solely by the BMA’s safety employees. Inform me about your expertise engaged on the present.
It’s been actually superb to construct camaraderie with different departments that I wouldn’t ordinarily get to collaborate with. I believe we’re all feeling extra validated, and everybody has had a chance to study one thing new from one another. It has been insightful to actually see how the museum operates, and to comprehend how a lot work goes into each single present.

How did you go about choosing works for the exhibition?
Everybody had their very own causes and concepts for choosing works. As for me, I paint in my free time and have accomplished murals with the native group Greenmount West Group Heart, which works intently with the museum and artist Mark Bradford. Except they’re commissioned or offered, my work typically simply sit and accumulate mud. I’ve all the time felt that artwork will not be created to go unseen. I requested the curators to give you an inventory of works by feminine artists that had not been on show for at the very least the final twenty years. I didn’t wish to choose something that could possibly be discovered on the BMA’s web site. The primary time I even noticed the works on that listing was when the conservation group introduced them out. I chosen three, all of which can seem within the catalogue, and in the end one for the present by Jane Frank, titled Winter’s Finish [1958]. It’s an summary oil portray with many layers and pure tones, nevertheless it’s big and provides viewers an entire world to flee into. It’s been within the BMA’s assortment because the Nineteen Sixties, and it has solely been displayed two or 3 times, for a short time, however by no means as soon as in my complete life. This would be the first time in a very long time that it’s popping out—and I can’t watch for it to be seen.

What has shocked you most in your position?
I spend a number of time folks watching, and it’s fascinating to see their behaviors. Some of the memorable instances was in the course of the exhibition “John Waters: Indecent Publicity” [2018–19]. The artist [and filmmaker] is thought for pushing the envelope to elicit reactions from viewers. It was form of humorous that we had a mature content material room, contemplating, however I used to be incessantly stationed there. Inside that room, one of many items, titled 12 Assholes and a Soiled Foot [1996], was about twelve toes lengthy and featured close-up stills from grownup movies. The one naked foot on view was soiled, which individuals felt was fairly taboo. There was nothing funnier than to observe a gaggle of grannies mosey by way of the present and not far away—after which see their eyes bulge on the sight of the work. Apparently, they had been those who would linger the longest.

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