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Arts & Life

Security Takes On New Meaning For A Museum Guard Watching A Lawn In A Pandemic

Suzanne Hogan
KCUR 89.3
Robert Gotow has worked in the security command center at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for 22 years.

In Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is closed, but the sculpture garden and south lawn have become popular hangout spots.

At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Robert Gotow’s job is to protect the art and facilities — inside and outside.

On a warm weekend afternoon in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inside is closed, but outside there is a lot of activity. Sunbathers chatting and reading, picnic blankets sprinkled on the lawn between the iconic shuttlecocks. People are playing catch, walking, jogging, and biking. The beautiful sculptures and landscape create an artistic backdrop scenery.

Visitors may not know that behind the scenes of this beautiful scenery, people like Robert Gotow are monitoring everything.

Suzanne Hogan
The Nelson-Atkins Museum lawn in Kansas City is a popular place for people to picnic, exercise and hangout on nice weather days.

Robert Gotow works in the security command center, which monitors everything going on inside the museum and out. He says it’s challenging work to monitor all the different cameras, microphones and alarms. On the rare occasion that the security team reprimands a visitor — most times via intercom — it’s always to protect the art. Sometimes they prevent vandalism, other times they ask people to stop climbing on things they shouldn’t.

“The camera system is awesome, so we can see and hear very good,” he says. “We’ve had to tell them, hey, we can hear you! And people were really shocked that we could hear them or that we can see them.”

Robert Gotow has been working here now for 22 years. “I wasn’t an art person," he says, "but it was very impressive to me to come to the museum and start learning about the art and the different artists. And so it was just an awesome thing and before you know it time started going by."

Gotow grew up in Kansas City, but he didn’t discover the museum himself until he got older, "because of the rough path that I took coming up.

"But when I met the Lord it changed my life," he says. "It changed everything and my perspective changed.”

Gotow went from being a gang member to becoming a pastor at the church where he found his faith. And he says this job at the Nelson was also part of that transformation.

Suzanne Hogan
Robert Gotow says the Nelson-Atkins Museum lawn has been a popular place for people to exercise, picnic and explore during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’m so appreciative of what I see from the museum,” says Gotow. “It’s a wide perspective on different urban neighborhoods and different people from all backgrounds coming up here now.”

Since the pandemic began, Robert’s daily life has changed. His wife, who is a school bus driver, is out of work. Church services have been moved to Zoom. And he’s been getting more walking in, doing more and more rounds outside as a growing number of people visit the lawn during the pandemic to enjoy the art and scenery.

Gotow says he knows it’s not his job to monitor social distancing. “They’ve tried,” he says of the people who turn out every nice weekend. “To me, they could do better."

“Like me and my wife, we’re at home together so we don’t wear a mask inside the house,” he explains. “However, when I’m going out to the store somewhere, I have a mask and I try to keep my space because I appreciate what we’re dealing with in this pandemic.”

Gotow takes a lot of pride in his job. He loves going to the Nelson every day, and he's glad to see visitors feel the same way. And as he continues to protect the art, he wants museum visitors to remember,“We’re protecting each other. That’s what I would say. Because you know our art is here for everyone to come and enjoy. It’s just that I think we need to be cautious and respectful of what we need to do to keep each other safe.”

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