By Kathleen Luppi
2:44 PM PDT, July 31, 2014
They call themselves "the paid stalkers."
The duty of the Laguna Art Museum security guards is to make sure that precious works of art remain untouched by visitors' hands and even more damaging things like chewing gum.
They spend eight hours a day on their feet watching with the stealth of spies, eager to maintain a low profile in the galleries so as not to intrude on the museum-going experience of guests. Unless someone wants to talk art with them, of course. Then they are more than happy to come out of the shadows and oblige.
The team of eight who stand in front of collections of abstract works, drawings and prints — they work various hours to cover guard duties six days a week — have in common a love of art that they are eager to share with the public.
After all, they are art students, art school graduates and artists.
"Part of the advantage of hiring artists and art students is that they're more enthusiastic about the artwork," said Joel Woodard, head of security.
Woodard, 39, who has worked at the museum since 2000, pursued his studies in art and was appointed head of security in 2012. He graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a master's degree in drawing and painting.
Woodard, who works a 40-hour week patrolling the museum, aims to set aside 15 hours a week furthering his artwork.
"Painting is the passion," he said. "I'll go home and, energy providing, I'll work on something."
The seven others share a similar interest.
Dan Flynn, 29, who illustrates cartoons and designs graphics, enjoys being in a position with a steady schedule where he can meet other artistic-minded people. "It's one of the more stable jobs in the museum," he said of being a security guard.
Since docents volunteer only three days a week, for one hour a day, the guards can take up the slack. The group enjoys discussing art pieces with visitors.
"The number one question we get is, 'What does this mean?'" said Flynn. "We've taken on the role of being docents."
To learn more about current or permanent exhibitions, the security team listens to visiting artists discuss the inspiration behind the collection.
"I always keep my ear out to hear all the different perspectives of a piece," said guard Bradford Smith. "Normally, I'm not around a piece for this long, but we get used to being around these pieces, and we're able to convey what they are about."
Malcolm Warner, executive director of Laguna Art Museum, is proud of the security staff's appreciation of art and devotion to protecting the museum's valuable assets.
"The artists on our security staff respect the great art in the museum and want it to be around for hundreds of years — I'm sure they want that for their own work — so who better to watch out for its safety?" he wrote in an email.
"Because they know about art techniques as well as art history, they're also good at answering the questions visitors ask them. While taking care of their main job of protecting the art, they make the museum a more visitor-friendly place. That's what a good security staff is all about."
With an average of more than 100 visitors touring the museum over a weekend and a good number stopping by during Laguna Beach's First Thursdays Art Walk, the security staff wants to provide a relaxed setting where guests do not feel intimidated.
"It's more important to make people feel comfortable," said Flynn.
That means walking where people go, but not following every step.
"We have video cameras do that," added Flynn.
Another comforting factor? No museum ghosts. Producers from the paranormal television reality series "Ghost Hunters" probed the grounds in March to determine if the museum, built in 1929, is haunted. After a tour of the location with electromagnetic field (EMF) meters in hand, investigators said they found nothing.
But there's more to the guard job than watching paintings, sculptures and installations. Add removing a snake from the lobby and celebrity sight-seeing to the list.
The guards said Kobe Bryant toured the museum a few weeks ago, and Diane Keaton is a frequent visitor. And when Leonardo DiCaprio was dating Gisele Bundchen, the couple stopped in but shortened the trip once the supermodel asked to grab food.
Said Flynn: "It's never dull around here."