As a security patrol officer at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Bruce Morrow's primary task is to protect the artwork.
At the same time, the artwork and the MIA’s timeless setting provide inspiration for the creative output of Morrow, a jazz musician, and the numerous writers, painters, sculptors and other musicians who also work there as guards.
“I welcome the chance to be in an environment where I have enough mental space where I can still do the job but also have time to ponder last night's rehearsal,” said Morrow, who plays upright bass in a couple of jazz groups.
Morrow, 52, has worked at the MIA since 1986. When he found himself burned out on retail after working for 10 years in a record store, he took a friend and customer's suggestion to give guard work a try. He also previously worked as a music journalist.
Joking that he started near the top and has worked his way down since, the former swing-shift captain has voluntarily scaled back his MIA responsibilities over the years to put more time and energy toward his musical passions. He's even performed a half dozen times at various MIA events.
Born in Canada and raised in northern Wisconsin, Morrow came to the Twin Cities to study at the University of Minnesota, where he got a degree in music history, and stayed. He began playing the upright bass in high school, studied it in college and picked it up again in his early 40s.
Three and out with MIA’s Bruce Morrow
- What are your favorite pieces of art at MIA?
Modigliani's "Little Servant Girl." He was mainly known as a sculptor. It's really interesting to see what he brings of his sensibility as a sculptor to the medium of oil painting. And the Richard Avedon exhibition of portrait photographs in the ’90s.
- What training did you go through to become a guard?
Besides first aid and fire extinguisher us, nothing too specific. It helped me a lot that I'm a good observer and am blessed with common sense.
- A night at the museum, does it live up to the hype?
It's way over-romanticized, way overblown. I remember once getting stuck in a blizzard, pulling a double shift, eating out of the vending machines and sleeping on a couch. That's about as romantic as it gets. That and going through the galleries on the second and third floors during a lightning storm, and the interesting play of light on the artwork. That's rather romantic, really.
Three more and out with Morrow
- Do people ask how much the art is worth?
Yes, sometimes, and we never comment on it because it's bad security to do so. But even if I could discuss it, I wouldn't want to, because that's not the point. The point is that these are unique expressions of the creative spirit. I like to think that the emphasis should be instead on their inherent beauty, and on what they reveal about the cultures and societies and eras from whence they came.
- What happens when there's news of a major art heist somewhere in the world?
Our boss always talks to us about it in the morning meeting and just reminds us to be vigilant. It just reminds us what our primary job is: safeguarding the art.
- Is being a museum guard a good profession?
It's not for everyone; you'd better be good at staying on your feet for long shifts. But I've learned to value it more ever since talking with museum guards in London and France and learning that overseas, it's a highly sought after, even prestigious career. My main problem with it is that sometimes people treat you as an "invisible" person because of the uniform we wear. If anything, that has inspired me to cultivate a strong identity away from the workplace; hence, my sideline career as a jazz musician. When I'm on the bandstand, I usually wear a vintage suit and tie, and it's always a kick when I encounter someone I know at or through work when I'm playing out. I like to think: "This is who I am, this is what truly defines me."