An Unsung Hero of The Ringling Reopening

Arts & Culture


Museums have the kind of steadfast inertia often reserved for geographical features like mountains or rivers, seeming to exist outside of time and human intervention as though they were formed and then left alone to carry on forever in pristine condition. The galleries of The Ringling, for example, can be browsed daily for a year without a visitor ever noticing so much as a fleck of dust tarnishing the floors of its vast galleries. But that level of stalwart consistency takes effort, and at The Ringling, even with its galleries empty of foot traffic for over two months, the behind-the-scenes work to maintain and reconfigure its amenities carried on under the leadership of Cherie Knudson, head of security.

Knudson is no stranger to managing the safety and order of sprawling, diverse assets. She worked as head of security at Endicott College in Massachusetts and Barry University in Florida before securing a job at The Ringling. Her duties in those roles often revolved around early morning calls about intoxicated students. “I don’t miss those,” she says in her New England accent. While she might still get the occasional call about a college student wandering onto the grounds, her job now sees her focus on the security of the priceless art in the galleries and the safety of the senior demographic that comprise a large percentage of The Ringling’s visitors. “We have a lot of medical considerations to be prepared for,” she says, “things like diabetes and heart issues, medication issues, slip and falls.” And that facet of her job has become enlarged by the preparations undertaken for reopening amidst the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even though we were closed to visitors, we were still working nonstop to prepare for reopening,” says Knudson. Her team, which, like her, all feel a strong sense of ownership and pride in their duties at the museum, helped the grounds crew perform the deep cleaning and social distancing accommodations so central to the museum’s reopening. Plexiglass partitions were installed at all kiosks, hand sanitizing stations were installed throughout the grounds, and personnel had to be trained to ensure social distancing was honored. That was on top of the regular guard patrols and monitoring of the interior conditions to ensure the artwork’s longevity. “Our collections are a big deal,” says Knudson, “but safety for our guests always comes first.”

The museum has now reopened to visitors and, though the sight of plexiglass barriers, face masks and social distancing floor markings might seem like unwelcomed intrusions to some, the museum still feels very much like the permanent feature it has been for decades. “It’s the longest time in our history we’ve ever been closed,” says Executive Director Steven High, “but Cherie runs a really tight ship and we’re looking forward to earning people’s trust again.” The museum strongly encourages visitors to wear masks and recommends tickets be purchased online for contact-free check-in. The museum has also introduced “Being Seen,” a photography exhibition that explores issues of identity and gender.

Photo courtesy of The Ringling.

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