Art museum replaces gallery guards with students

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art fired 56 of its gallery attendants Monday morning and will replace them with 100 IUPUI students on a federal work-study program.

In addition, IMA will employ 14 reserve police officers to patrol its campus, including 100 Acres, the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which opened this summer.

The wholesale change in security staffing, which IMA executives believe will save $600,000 a year, has been in the works for months. Spokeswoman Katie Zarich said the new program is designed to address three key concerns: car break-ins on the parking lot, security for the recently expanded campus, and escalating expenses.

“Our staff has recognized that with increased public participation in 100 Acres … we needed to update our security model from the previous one-size-fits-all approach,” CEO Maxwell L. Anderson said in a prepared statement. “With the opening of the park, the IMA’s campus is unlike any other museum campus in the country, thus it required us to review our security program anew.”

Zarich added that many museums around the country are struggling with security costs. The new security model was developed by Chief Operating Officer Nick Cameron, who joined the museum last year from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Making the security program more efficient was the first task Anderson asked him to accomplish, she said.

The security revamp will help the museum meet its $21.2 million budget for the year ending June 30, 2011, down from $21.8 million last year.

IMA has cut about $7 million out of its annual budgets since the 2008 financial crisis cut into its endowment, which provides more than 60 percent of operating funds. The endowment was worth about $301 million in July.

The 33 full-time and 23 part-time gallery attendants who lost their jobs Monday morning earned an average of $11.50 per hour. The IUPUI students will earn $10 per hour, but under the federal work-study program, the IMA will cover just 25 percent of their pay.

The IMA is retaining a handful of gallery attendants, Zarich said, because the new student "visitor assistants" can work only a maximum of four hours per shift, under the federal rules. The museum staff also anticipates turnover and a constant need for training. The students receive training in security protocol and customer service.

The museum also is retaining a number of security personnel who will work in surveillance and monitoring.

One point of controversy among museum staff members is the introduction of armed police officers. Zarich said other institutions in town, including the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, use reserve officers. The IMA's leadership feels it's a necessary step to prevent crime and have a more immediate response when incidents do occur, she said. The museum has reported more than 40 break-ins on its parking lot this year, she said.

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