Ken Bennett – Dallas Museum of Art
Ken Bennett clearly remembers his first “aha moment” with contemporary art. He was helping install the exhibition, “Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga,” at the Dallas Museum of Art. Sixty works by the two Japanese artists were on display from February to July of 2015.
When Bennett, the museum’s director of facility operations and security, turned the corner and saw a large canvas layered thick with blood red paint, he was taken aback. The violent smattering was “reminiscent of a wild boar hunt,” he says of the Shiraga piece, “Wild Boar Hunting II.”
“Contemporary art can be very abstract and challenging to understand,” Bennett says. “So, when you look at a piece and get it, it’s incredible.”
Since then, he’s come to appreciate art more deeply, which has made his job of protecting the museum’s collection even more fulfilling. He and his team ensure the DMA’s 25,000 pieces of art stay safe and that the museum itself is well maintained. The Texas-based museum is one of the 10 largest art museums in the country and Bennett’s work ensures it stays accessible.
“I have to admit I wasn’t an art guy before I got here, but learning about art and artists has been fascinating,” he says. “Being part of telling the stories and showing the public pieces they may have never seen before is exciting.”
Making art accessible
In maintaining the DMA, Bennett works closely with the City of Dallas, which owns the museum’s building, on all major construction and renovations. The museum is currently working on a $6 million bond project, which the city oversees while museum staff provides design input.
The project, which started in November 2020, will replace exterior, storefront and emergency exit doors to make them more accessible. It will also upgrade the elevators, renovate the restrooms and fix water damage.
“This will greatly increase the experience for our guests while adding a welcoming visual,” says Bennett, who oversees daily operations of the project.
The work is expected to be finished by early summer. Separate from the bond project, Bennett is upgrading the museum’s security cameras and alarms. When he started at the DMA in 2014, 97 percent of its cameras were analog. Now, 70 percent are digital. The digital ones are more reliable but can create pixelated images while panning. Analog cameras don’t do this, so he plans to continue using both types.
“Not only does this keep our art safe, but it creates a safer environment for our guests and the community,” Bennett says.
Built to protect
While security is strong throughout the museum, Bennett says different exhibitions require varying levels of security. The DMA does multiple special exhibitions each year, which can include loans of rare or unique art from private collections or other museums.
For example, a Van Gogh series that the artist did while self-committed to an asylum is on display from October 2021 to February 2022. According to Bennett, curators and researchers spent 10 years studying the 15 pieces, all of which depict an olive grove. This is the first time the paintings have been brought together.
Whenever the museum hosts an exhibition, Bennett and his team work with museum staff and exhibition collaborators to build cases, displays and temporary walls. The process usually takes a couple of months, which includes installing each piece and putting up signage and other graphics.
From May to September 2022, the museum will host “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity,” which will show how Islamic art and design has influenced the design of Cartier jewelry. The exhibition will have 400 pieces, and Bennett and his team will begin building displays for it in March.
“Creating a safe, secure environment serves as a foundation for the museum to expand its offerings and reach new customers,” he says. “It ensures that people can come and experience the incredible art we have here.”
While most of Bennett’s career has been spent doing facilities and security work, the DMA has offered him a much different experience. After 10 years in the Air Force, he spent over two decades holding director of security positions at hotel casinos in Nevada, California and Indiana.
When he no longer wanted to work in casinos, Bennett looked for opportunities in Texas, where he has family, and came across the opening at the DMA. The role has been his first with “facilities” in the title.
“Casinos and museums are both people-focused, but in the museum world you have the challenge of protecting art,” he says. “You have to maintain a physical climate that’s art friendly and maybe not as comfortable for people.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic he’s had to balance protecting both, taking special care of how public and staff areas are cleaned. While his team uses electrostatic sprayers in bathrooms and entry ways, cleaning rooms that contain art requires a more controlled approach, such as wiping down surfaces.
With a team of 110 across five departments, Bennett says he plays to people’s strengths and allows them “to do what they do best.” He says this helps everyone stay focused on the museum’s mission of bringing art to the community.
“Whether it’s cleaning bathrooms or building a case to protect a piece, everything we do supports the museum,” Bennett says. “We want to make it as interesting, comfortable, accessible and enjoyable as possible for visitors.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2022 Edition here.
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