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Insider's Look: Russell Collett

Russell Collett, the Art Institute's Associate Vice President for Protection Services describes the museum's multi-layered security approach as "both overt and covert." And he should know. In addition to his years at the Art Institute, he spent 25 years with the Secret Service. Russell was recently profiled in the museum's Member Magazine and discusses what it's like to ride on Air Force One and if the museum has any plans to reinstate the German Shepherds that used to help guard our building. Here is an excerpt from his interview, as well as a few additional fun facts. . . You have had high-profile jobs in the past, such as working for the Secret Service. How has that prepared you for working at the Art Institute of Chicago? I was trained from my first day at the Secret Service to build a prevention-based environment. We always look at preventing crime and preventing an attack on our people or assets. Today, that same goal is on my mind every day—to empower my team and all museum staff to build that prevention-based, forward-thinking, collaborative model. Security is everybody’s responsibility. There are actually a lot of similarities between the Secret Service and the museum in terms of tradition, history, the mission of the people who work there, and collaboration. I spent 10 of my 25+ years with the Secret Service at the White House. It’s a museum in and of itself, and it is constantly hosting dignitaries and events. Here at the museum, we host 1,300 events a year. Being able to work collaboratively with the folks who plan these successful events is similar to the work I did at the White House. It’s also similar from a facilities standpoint. The White House has its own curator, engineers, electricians, painters, housekeeping, gardeners, and contractors. All those folks work together on the daily operations of the White House, just as we do here. What would surprise people about working for the Secret Service? It’s not always as glamorous as it seems. You’d be surprised at how boring it is sometimes. It’s a 24/7/365 job, and no matter where you are, there’s somebody standing outside a door in the middle of the night protecting a president or dignitary, walking a patrol, or manning a command center. It’s similar to what we do here—our department secures our people and facilities the same way. What's one of your favorite perks of being an Art Institute staff member? Being able to walk through the museum alone before the doors open to the public and to be in the presence of history. Our department brand is “protecting history.” Each of us has this ability and obligation to play a part. What’s the most important security tip for people’s homes? Lock your doors. Keep an emergency supply kit and have a plan. Check on your elderly neighbors and trust your gut. What’s a movie or television show that gets the security profession totally wrong? The West Wing? Homeland? Night at the Museum? White House Down? First Kid? No profession is ever portrayed with complete accuracy, but when it comes to accuracy in the White House, The West Wing got it totally wrong with all the walking. The White House isn’t that big. The characters would walk for minutes going from the Oval Office to the Cabinet Room exchanging rapid-fire conversation, and the two rooms were actually steps from each other. Also, the White House press room is a lot smaller than it appears on television. You are the proud father of triplet daughters. Is working at the Art Institute more or less challenging than raising triplets? It’s about the same. Our girls were born literally one minute apart but they are so different. So are the people who come through our doors. I get to interact with a diverse group of people—members and guests with various stages of knowledge about art. It’s all about the customer experience.