Life with Leo

February 17, 2007

Finn at the Peabody Essex

Filed under: Kids in museums, Peabody Essex Museum — fehlhaber @ 4:42 pm


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  1. Hi KLF67,

    I’m a part-time guard at the PEM (a retiree) who was just Googling to see if anyone had anything to say about us on the Web. Your blog popped up. Its title (Life with Leo) intrigued me because there’s a guard named Leo — could this be his blog? (Not likely. I don’t think he knows a mouse from a keyboard.) But when I read about your experiences with guards I was even more intrigued.

    “Museum Guard Quote of the Day:
    “Do you have a lot of money?”
    (this was the guard’s way of asking me to pick up my camera from the floor of the kids’s area where we were sprawled out playing with blocks and puzzles)”

    I think I know who that guard was because I remember him talking about this incident (or one like it) in the break room. What a coincidence. He wasn’t telling you to pick your camera up, by the way. (Unless it was in the way.) It was just his coy way of saying that it might get stepped on or even stolen if you left it where it was. (Belongings do disappear at PEM.)

    ““Are you visting the museum?” asked the guard. Why else would two adults and two children be inside the museum? Would it be that hard to just say, “Welcome to the Peabody Essex — we’re so glad you are here”?”

    Why else would you be there? Well, you might be there to meet someone in the lobby. (Common. You’d be told you could sit on one of the benches by the front door.) Or to visit the gift shop, but not the museum itself. (Also common. You’d be pointed toward the gift shop’s entrance and told that no admission was required.) Or to report that one of your kids might have left something at the museum on your last visit. (The guard would call the office where lost items are stored.) Or for a reason all your own. (One guy came in and asked if he could go up to the top floor without paying so his son could look down on the atrium from above, which he apparently wanted to do. Obviously, the father didn’t want to pay two admissions just for that.)

    “Kids are welcome in the Idea Studios and the Art & Nature Center, but elsewhere, guards often look afraid when you enter a gallery with children. You should see some of the looks we’ve gotten while walking around the museum. One guard was hesitant to open the door to us for the 3rd floor special exhibition. I’m not making this up — something like this happens nearly every time we go.”

    Not sure what you mean by “looking afraid,” but if you’ve just endured, say, three waves of 40-to-50 3rd graders each (school groups), attended by teachers whose idea of watching over them is to wander off and chat among themselves, you, too, might feel a little gun-shy when you saw a few more approaching. And unless a guard happens to be going in or out of a gallery at the same time you are, or sees you’re in a wheelchair needing assistance, it’s very rare that he or she would be opening a door for you. In fact, we had an incident about a year ago where a guard was opening a door for someone (elderly) when an 8-year-old chose to plunk a wad of chewing gum on a painting not ten feet away from him. The message was that he should have been watching the people in the gallery, not those leaving it. And guards are generally more concerned about the parents than the kids. On a cool day last month I saw two women walking toward me across the atrium with three kids about six and under. The oldest, a boy, was swinging his jacket by the sleeve. He hit his sister, who yelped and complained to their mother. The mother said, “Don’t hit your sister.” Not, “don’t swing your jacket.” A few visitors had already stepped out of his way. I was getting set to speak to the mother about it when they stopped and turned toward the Arts and Nature Center. Phew!

    “Leo is old enough to not try to climb on this ship, but it is hard for younger kids to walk through here without getting into trouble.”

    Leo and I share an interest — the model of the Queen Elizabeth. (Though I’m old enough to have seen it when it was still displayed on 5th Avenue.) As for little kids in the PEM (or any museum), I think parents have to understand that our rules — which may seem stringent even to adults — don’t melt away just because someone is too young to understand or appreciate them — nor do the reasons they were instituted in the first place. The English woman you linked to who was “tossed” from a museum wondered if her amiable perception of the annoyance her kid was causing was distorted. At the PEM, the rule is that anyone making a cellphone call has to be asked to move to the atrium so others won’t be disturbed by it. (Some guards are tough on this, others are pushovers.) If a cellphone is a bother, where does that put a shrieking 2-year-old? (Was the guard really “apoplectic?” We have one who could be.)

    “Why not have some hands on ships near by to divert their attention in a positive way?”

    Because too many parents would use those hands-on ships (or whatever) as baby-sitters while they wandered off on their own. They already do this with the Arts and Nature Center. I had an experience of this kind there when a young kid, maybe 3, looked up from whatever he’d been doing and didn’t see his mother. He started running around, calling for her. Nobody answered. Just as I was about to report a lost (or “left”) child — an extremely serious business — the kid rushed down the corridor toward the atrium. And there, at the far end of the corridor, he found his mother, ambling back from wherever she’d been. She shushed him, calmed him, brought him back — and then left him again! I wouldn’t want to be a playroom supervisor on every post I was sent to.

    Enough of that. Hope it doesn’t seem like a rant. Just answering a couple of your questions. (And I don’t speak in any way, shape, or form for the museum itself.)

    However, speaking now as a guard, I have to say I find a few disturbing things on your blog:

    1. Yue Minjun at the Peabody Essex — Photography of these statues was not allowed. Which you probably wouldn’t know unless there was a guard out there to tell you. Sometimes there wasn’t. (Spending four hours with those infinitely eerie smiles was definitely an unusual experience.) They were part of a special exhibit.

    2. Caressing the Deborah Butterfield horse sculpture in the atrium — “Please don’t touch the artwork.” This sculpture is now cordoned off and a sign reading “Please don’t touch” has been put up. (By the way, have you seen the Butterfield horses outside the Neiman Marcus in Copley Square?)

    3. Contemplating modern Native-American art (not pictured: doing the limbo underneath it) — “Please don’t touch (or play with or under) the artwork.” Kids love to limbo here or make it swing “just a little.” (Last week a 14-year-old girl sent it swinging wildly. “I only touched it once,” she said. Some kids playing under it once knocked it down. These things don’t make the curators happy.)

    4. Checking out the Maori Tattoo exhibit — Photography is not allowed in the Photography Gallery, which this is. (Or in special exhibits generally, which this was.)

    5. Monday — enjoying Cheerios in the Peabody Essex Museum — a great place on a winter day — Not a problem because this was taken in the atrium, where the rules bend a little. But no food or drink of any kind (including Cheerios, but excepting water) is allowed in any of the galleries. Technically, this includes baby (i.e., infant) formula, but this is generally ignored. (One older guard, though, was quite upset by a mother nursing her child in the Arts and Nature Center. Not on the “no-food-or-drink” issue, however.)

    The gist of which, the PEM guards let you get away with a few things, which may or may not make up for the things they (or we) didn’t. So maybe we’re even.

    Denton923fr

    Comment by denton923fr — August 15, 2009 @ 2:59 pm


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