Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Comfy shoes are a must.
Name: Wendy McGowan
Occupation: Security Officer, Art Institute of Chicago
City: Chicago, IL
After 10 1/2 years as a security officer at the Art Institute of Chicago, Wendy McGowan is still figuring out the best shoes to wear. Make no mistake: She loves moving through the museum’s vaunted galleries, researching artworks she encounters, and chatting with guests. But after an hour-long commute from the South Side and eight hours patrolling hard marble floors, McGowan’s feet and back cry out at the end of every day.
Though museum policy meant we couldn’t take her picture, McGowan was kind enough to answer CityLab’s questions in the cool glow of Marc Chagall’s “America Windows” (1977) just a few minutes before a colleague tagged her for the next rotation.
What’s the best part about your job?
The interaction with patrons. I like hearing their feedback on the artwork and talking to them about what they enjoy, what they know. Sometimes guests have been to other museums and have seen stuff there, but usually, they like this museum compared to other places. There’s more to see.
What are the best shoes to wear?
You can’t wear nice shoes you can go out in after work. You have to get flat ones for your legs and feet. Skechers are OK, but I need some more. The soles wear out fast. I go through a new pair every one or two months.
How could the public make your life a little easier?
I’d just say, try to be a little more pleasant. We come into contact with a lot of rude guests. I guess they go other places where the people don’t tell them anything about how they act. But not here. We work around priceless artwork. They want to touch and mess with stuff, and don’t seem to understand when we tell them they can’t do that.
Do you have a favorite piece in the collection?
I like Jacob Lawrence’s ”The Wedding,” (1948) in the American art gallery. It’s a painting. I think it’s just beautiful.