The inspiration for the film came from overhearing a guard at the Freer Collection in Washington, DC answering questions from a visitor about the Whistler Dining Room. He was so knowledgeable and proud of the collection, and after that, whenever I visited a museum I would always talk to the guards.
The Met was the only museum where I'd ever seen the guards reading the wall text. I later learned that over half the security staff are artists.
As someone who has always gone to museums with the hope of making emotional as well as intellectual connections with the art, I wanted to make a film about the quiet power these objects can have on our lives, as opposed to the blockbuster shows and soaring auction prices that have made art a commodity.
Because the Met has such a variety of art, it seemed to be the most interesting place to make the film; but it is primarily a scholarly institution, so it took years to get up the courage to approach them. Then I discovered The New York Times art critic, Holland Cotter. Over the three years it took to make the film, his Friday reviews amazed and inspired me with their knowledge, sense of wonder and playfulness.
Once I had permission to make the film, the challenge was to find the storytellers. A request in Met Matters, the in-house newsletter, brought many responses; friends and colleagues recommended people; and serendipity played its role as well. Through a combination of bad weather and intuition, I found myself following an Access class for the mentally challenged led by the amazing Nitza Horner.
The idea of filming after-hours and on days when the Museum is closed was so exciting, but I soon discovered that those were the times when the housekeeping is done. There was always the rattle and hum of heavy equipment on the move, and often an unmarked door would suddenly open and a startled janitor would become part of the interview. My gratitude to the patience of those being interviewed is enormous.
Before we began filming, there seemed to be some resistance to what I was trying to accomplish, but once we were underway that changed. The Museum generously hosted the premiere of Hidden Treasures, and they recently began a yearlong series on their website called Connections in which staff members reflect on works of art they love.