It might not be the site of the next Hollywood thriller, and it’s probably not the target of international conspiracy. But the Wexner Center is home to cultural property, and it’s Doug McGrew’s job to protect it.
“[Wexner Center and university security crews] have to take a look at what we have and make sure that it’s properly secured,” McGrew said. “A lot of times, [art theft] just has to do with opportunity. There are some protocols that should be in place that aren’t.”
McGrew is manager of security operations for the Department of Public Safety. He works in a department within the DPS called University Security and Protective Services, which got its start when the Wexner Center for the Arts opened in 1989.
Since then, the department has expanded its services to other buildings on campus. But it maintains close ties with the Wexner Center.
“The center has a great relationship with the Department of Public Safety,” said Jack Jackson, deputy director of the Wexner Center. “We feel like they are truly part of our team.”
McGrew joined the team in 2005 and has since led the Wexner Center’s award-winning security staff.
Jackson, who jointly interviewed McGrew with the DPS, said he was impressed with McGrew “from the get-go.”
“What distinguished Doug for me,” Jackson said, “was that he just immediately got it. He’d never been at an arts center, but he got it.
“He had done his research. He was just brimming with ideas about what could be and how it could work, so it was just clear that there was real interest on his part. And that sold me.”
But McGrew was entering unfamiliar territory. “In terms of my previous background, it prepared me in no way, shape or form for the protection of art and cultural property,” he said.
McGrew began his law enforcement career at a police academy in the Dayton area. While there, he served as an auxiliary officer, or “unarmed person.”
“Once I graduated the academy,” McGrew said, “I became what is called a reserve officer, which gave me full police authority. I kind of cut my teeth with them.”
McGrew worked as a police officer in the cities of Bellbrook and Franklin, Ohio, until 1999, when he became a loss prevention executive with Federated Department Stores, Inc., now Macy’s, Inc. He went on to become the director of security at Polaris Fashion Place.
When he began work at the DPS, his first goal was to adjust to the new environment.
“I think when I first came here, it was more about getting to know the staff that I had just inherited,” McGrew said.
The next steps were to learn all he could about art protection and to use that knowledge to improve the training curriculum.
Last year, he traveled to Boston for an International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection conference. “This is the only group that had a training curriculum that actually certifies you,” McGrew said. “It was attractive.”
After attending another conference in Chicago this year, McGrew attained the highest certification for IFCPP offers. But certification was not the only thing he gained. The conferences were a source of inspiration.
After McGrew returned from the Boston conference, he collaborated with other conference attendees to form an Ohio chapter of the foundation. They called it the Heartland Chapter.
“What we’re trying to do is just get everybody to start talking,” he said. “Too often, we don’t talk unless something bad happens.”
To start the conversation, the Heartland Chapter held a seminar at the Dayton Art Institute. Closer to home, McGrew is organizing a day-long event at the Wexner Center called Cultural Heritage at Risk.
The OSU seminar will include presentations by industry experts, roundtable discussion, a screening of “The Rape of Europa” and book signings with authors and featured speakers Noah Charney and Travis McDade.
“I think if we get all of these individuals in the room who are in their own way responsible for protecting cultural property and then partner them up with the right people and the right resources,” McGrew said, “we’ll have a much stronger bond, at least here in Ohio.”
Jackson said McGrew’s work with the Heartland Chapter “is a good example of him going above and beyond.
“He’s built a team of security officers who really execute their duties with that same level of commitment,” Jackson said. “They show up and do everything that we, at a minimum, want them to do, but so much more.”
McGrew said he, too, is proud of the team he works with.
“There are 18 full-time, dedicated people who are assigned here to the Wexner Center,” he said. “Every time we turn around, we’re always receiving some sort of accolade or award or nomination.”
McGrew’s leadership has set his department on the path of national
recognition. “I want to continue to help our department, within public safety, become recognized as a national leader in not only campus safety but cultural protection,” he said. “I think if we’re not there already, we’re working our way toward that.”
McGrew’s drive to excel has not gone unnoticed.
“I think as a safety and security officer, he’s top drawer,” Jackson said. “He’s tried to constantly look at different security improvements. He’s always thinking about what’s next, and that’s really valuable.”
The Cultural Heritage at Risk seminar will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Wexner Center Film/Video Theater. Check-in and continental breakfast begin at 8 a.m. Admission is $20, and advanced registration is required.