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  • December 16, 2020 1:18 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Campus Security Magazine

    As colleges across the country continue to face the many challenges brought on by the pandemic, some campuses have been successful in containing the virus.

    While media has mostly covered colleges and universities with significant outbreaks, an analysis by National Geographic found 1,215 U.S. colleges have fewer than 100 reported cases as of Oct. 22. Additionally, 321 campuses have 100 to 1,000 reported cases, 52 have more than 1,000 and 74 have no reported cases.

    One common factor between many of the campuses that have reported a similar number of cases is enrollment size. For example, Clemson University, which typically has an enrollment of more than 23,000 students, has the highest reported number of coronavirus cases at 4,082. Similarly, the University of Alabama, which has an enrollment of approximately 39,000, has 3,465 reported cases.

    In contrast, Loyola Marymount University has an enrollment of around 9,300 students and only one reported. Sarah Lawrence College, which has an enrollment of around 1,400 students, has only reported three cases so far.

    According to National Geographic, the majority of colleges that have been able to contain the virus have created their own public health infrastructures, sharing cohesive public health messaging with constituents and implementing rigid COVID-19 testing.

    When students returned to Sarah Lawrence in the fall, they were met with signs throughout campus reminding them to wear masks and circles painted on lawns to indicate proper social distancing. Only 35% of the undergraduate student body is living on campus this year, most of whom as freshmen, compared to 84% last year. Students were required to provide negative COVID test results within two weeks of arrival and have since undergone consistent testing throughout the semester.

    Due to the significantly lower number of students living on campuses, each dorm only houses one student instead of the typical double or triple occupancy, and several dorm rooms have been kept empty for students needing to quarantine. Pedestrian traffic flow has been adjusted, as have entrances and exits for all buildings. All buildings are also kept locked so only those with key cards can enter.

    Sarah Lawrence President Cristle Collins Judd doesn’t attribute the school’s success to students following guidelines but to its sense of camaraderie.

    “A key part for us was active communication with our students about caring for each other as a community,” she said.

    Student Ava McDonald, who is a resident advisor, said she helps her residents follow protocols while ensuring they don’t feel isolated from the rest of the campus.

    “The activities council does an event almost every day either in person or online,” she said. “I would end my night by going to the open mic, for example, where a bunch of students just get on a Zoom call, and everyone performs whatever they want to share.”

    Colleges’ Surrounding Communities Plays Significant Role

    According to health experts, in addition to size, the inability for college campuses to regulate transmission in the communities that surround them plays a significant role in keeping the virus off campus. Often, larger campuses are public and are located in or near populous urban areas. Of the colleges that have been able to largely prevent an outbreak, “many of those places have had the advantage of being relatively isolated,” said Sarah Fortune, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

    Fortune specified that isolation doesn’t necessarily mean a school in a rural area but rather how freely people from the community are allowed to move on campus. Schools in “porous” communities, where there is more movement between the campus and the surrounding area, have seen more outbreaks.

    “The places that are more porous, where there is definitely transmission into the campuses from the outside community, these are the places that have to attend much more behavioral risk mitigation strategies,” Fortune said.

    If a college is less porous and has a solid testing program in place, she continued, then the student body could, in theory, be more relaxed.

    Fortune further emphasized schools that have successfully curbed the virus “have a whole public health infrastructure. You just cannot believe the commitments that they have made to public health and the health of their communities.”

    See Original Post

  • December 16, 2020 1:15 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AAM 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed gaping holes in the systems that should shield communities from harm. Patching the frayed social safety net will require government, private, and non-profit sectors to work together, going beyond their usual remits to do whatever needs to be done. Museums can play a significant role in this joint effort to protecting vulnerable populations. Today’s guest post offers a case in point, as Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness in the UK, tells us how she and her colleagues are rising to this challenge.
    –Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums

    In March 2020, as museums closed their doors and the streets of London emptied, we had a desperate situation on the streets. My community members and I at Museum of Homelessness immediately began to take action to protect our street homeless and vulnerably housed population. It was far from clear what form those actions should take. For example, we introduced temperature screening at our regular weekly solidarity drop in run with our partners Streets Kitchen but quickly realised that if one of our community members was to present with symptoms, there was no way they could self-isolate. Faced with silence from the authorities, we had to create our own guidance in order to save lives.

    It was in this climate that we repurposed all our activity and resources to campaign for government assistance and to provide direct support to our community. Two weeks before the UK government informed local authorities that they needed to bring everyone inside, we and our partners Streets Kitchen published a plan to utilise empty hotel accommodation for people who were street homeless. This was subsequently adopted as national strategy. We wrote to the Secretary of State to ask that the closed Mildmay Hospital in London be brought back into use for COVID care for homeless people. The hospital now provides that specialist care for our community.

    Since Museum of Homelessness was founded in 2015, our work has brought us into contact with London homelessness health teams, the Government’s Rough Sleepers initiative, local partners in Islington and grassroots groups across the UK. Drawing on those grassroots connections, we co-created the COVID-19 Homeless Taskforce, teaming up with our long term partners Streets Kitchen, the Outside Project, Simon Community, Union Chapel and joined byGreenpeace, 2 local mutual aid groups, and many others. With our normal cultural activities placed firmly on the back-burner, we borrowed a vacant community centre from the council to launch a 7-day-a-week pandemic response operation. We even re-purposed our museum shelving to store dried goods and cans.

    All of this happened in just three short weeks.

    Over the course of the summer, over 50 taskforce volunteers pitched in. Together, we dispatched almost 9,000 meals to people in temporary accommodation and on the streets. We were present on the streets every single day. Our mission was simple: To ensure that no one in our community had to face the pandemic alone.

    In July, as lockdown eased, the council asked for their borrowed community centre back. But the pandemic is far from over and we face what may be the the worst winter on record for homelessness. It is imperative that our work continues. We are seeking the museum’s “forever home,” but in the meantime, lacking a building, we have set up on the streets. Every Thursday between 12 and 2pm people can visit our StreetMuseum to engage with our collections and spend some safely distanced and well-ventilated time together. We also share hot meals from this site across the borough with people who are living or working at street level.

    Some people may question why a museum is carrying out frontline work or campaigning on policy issues. To us, it is simply common sense. Museum of Homelessness is run by people who either are or have been homeless, and has the interests of people who are homeless at its heart. When the biggest crisis of a generation hit our shores, how can we not use every ounce of energy to take care of each other?

    Some museums currently face their own crisis—the painful re-evaluation of their histories and identities as 19th century colonial institutions. As a new museum, Museum of Homelessness is lucky has the opportunity to make a museum for the new century unburdened by history. So far it seems to us that a 21st century museum is sometimes an exhibition, sometimes an emergency aid hub, sometimes a law clinic, sometimes a bloc in a march. There are key qualities that you will often find in people who are homelessness – resourcefulness, adaptability, creativity. These are qualities that we find in our museum as well, no doubt instilled in it from our community members and they are qualities that help us all survive.

    See Original Post

  • December 01, 2020 4:52 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Guardian

    I am a pan-African activist, campaigning for reparations for the crimes against African people committed during colonialism. Recently, I have taken matters into my own hands: I go to museums that exhibit African artefacts; I tell the truth about how these items were looted and stolen from – and then I take them.

    I have been deeply political for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1978 in Kinshasa, the capital of what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My father was a revolutionary, and led the 1968 coup d’état that overthrew the Congolese government. When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories of Patrice Lumumba, the father of Congolese independence.

    I was 13 when I joined a political party: the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). After finishing high school, I started teaching myself more about international relations, law and African history. I wanted to explore the bonds that unite all African people. I am now the leader of a pan-African activist group, Unité, Dignité, Courage, an organisation that fights for the liberation and transformation of Africa. We believe the wealth amassed by western nations through our works of art must be returned, and the goods given back to the African people.

    On 12 June, I started to put these plans into practice. I travelled to the Quai Branly museum in Paris with a few other activists. A recent report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron found that France has ; more than two-thirds are at the Quai Branly. I took a 19th-century Bari funerary post; when a king died, the post would be placed in front of the grave. It was the only piece that was within our reach; it didn’t weigh much, so was easy to take.

    With the post in my hands, I started speaking in the museum – and on a Facebook livestream – explaining how these objects were taken. A crowd gathered. The police arrived, but didn’t know what to do, so they listened to us. After half an hour, we were handcuffed and taken into custody. Security took back the post, and charges were pressed for attempted theft of a registered artwork.

    After that, I was on a roll: I took a sword from the MAAOA museum in Marseille, and a Congolese religious statue from the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal in the Netherlands, in September. In each case we were stopped by police, and the items were returned. In October, I went to the Louvre to take a 19th-century Ana Deo swimming sculpture from Indonesia. I was arrested and detained in prison for three days.

    After our action at the Quai Branly, I and four others stood trial for attempted theft on 30 September. Our lawyers said that we are not thieves, but activists fighting for political causes. The case became a big story in the French press, encapsulating the national debate about what should be done with the spoils of colonialism.

    The charges had a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a €150,000 fine; I was fined €1,000 for aggravated theft. The judge recognised the activist nature of my action, but said he wanted to discourage such stunts. I will appeal against the fine, because I don’t think it is for me to pay this: it is for the Quai Branly and the French state.

    At the time of writing, I am awaiting trial for our other three actions, on charges of attempted theft –in Marseille, the Netherlands, and Paris for the act at the Louvre. But, whatever the country, I will continue. 

    These artefacts belong to me, because I am African and Congolese. But also because I am a descendant of Ntumba Mvemba, one of the royal families that founded the Kingdom of Kongo in 1390. I am the great-grandson of the governor of Mpangu, second-in-command to the throne and a leader of one of the 12 provinces of the Kingdom of Kongo.

    People have to understand that if someone stole their heritage they would react as I am now. Many of my ancestors died protecting these items: they were beheaded. They refused to accept that these objects be taken, and they were killed. Their pain is inside me. 

    As told to Alexander Durie.

    See Original Post

  • December 01, 2020 3:47 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Security Magazine

    The 2020 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has found that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year since peaking in 2014. The number of deaths has now decreased by 59% since 2014 to 13,826. Conflict remains the primary driver of terrorism, with over 96% of deaths from terrorism in 2019 occurring in countries already in conflict.

    The annual Global Terrorism Index, now in its eighth year, is developed by leading think tank the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorism trends.

    The largest decreases in deaths occurred in Afghanistan and Nigeria, however they are still the only two countries to have experienced more than 1,000 deaths from terrorism. The fall in deaths was also reflected in country scores, with 103 improving compared to 35 that deteriorated. This is the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since the inception of the index.

    Despite the overall fall in the global impact of terrorism, it remains a significant and serious threat in many countries. There were 63 countries in 2019 that recorded at least one death from a terrorist attack, and the largest increase in terrorism occurred in Burkina Faso – where deaths rose by 590 per cent. Other countries to deteriorate substantially are Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Mali and Niger.

    Some of the other key findings:

    • The ten countries with the highest impact from terrorism are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines
    • For the second year in a row South Asia is the region most impacted by terrorism, while Central America and the Caribbean region recorded the lowest impact
    • MENA recorded the largest regional improvement in terrorism for the second consecutive year, recording the lowest number of deaths since 2003

    Steve Killelea, Executive Chairman of IEP: "As we enter a new decade we are seeing new threats of terrorism emerge. The rise of the far-right in the West and the deteriorations in the Sahel are prime examples. Additionally, as seen in the recent attacks in France and Austria, many smaller groups sympathetic to ISIL philosophies are still active. To break these influences three major initiatives are needed – to break their media coverage and online social networks, disrupt their funding and lessen the number of [sympathizers]."

    The GTI uses a number of factors to calculate its score, including the number of incidences, fatalities, injuries and property damage. The Taliban remained the world's deadliest terrorist group in 2019; however, terrorist deaths attributed to the group declined by 18%. ISIL's strength and influence also continued to decline, for the first time since the group became active it was responsible for less than a thousand deaths in any one year. 

    Despite the decrease in activity from ISIL in the Middle East and North Africa, ISIL's affiliate groups remain active across the world, with 27 countries recording an attack by ISIL or its affiliates. Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit the hardest, with seven of the ten countries with the largest increases in terrorism deaths residing in the region. ISIL affiliates are mainly responsible for the increase with 41% of all ISIL related deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

    For North America, Western Europe, and Oceania, the threat of far-right political terrorism has been rising over the past five years. In these regions far-right incidents increased by 250 per cent between 2014 and 2019. There were 89 deaths attributed to far-right terrorists in 2019. Over the past decade measures of societal resilience have been falling in many of the economically advanced economies. This trend is likely to continue because of the extended economic downturn caused by COVID-19, which is likely to increase political instability and violence. 

    Since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020, preliminary data suggests a decline in both incidents and deaths from terrorism in most regions in the world. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to present new and distinct counter-terrorism challenges. It is important that counter-terrorism initiatives are not curtailed because of decreases in government expenditure due to the economic downturn. Reductions in international assistance for counter-terrorism operations in MENA and sub-Saharan Africa could prove to be counter-productive.

    Thomas Morgan, Senior Research Fellow at IEP, explains the findings: "Between 2011 and 2019, riots and violent demonstrations in the West increased by 277 per cent. There are serious concerns that the deteriorating economic conditions will lead to more people becoming alienated and susceptible to extremist propaganda."

    The fall in terrorism has also been accompanied by a reduction in the global economic impact of terrorism, decreasing by 25% to US$16.4 billion in 2019. Compared to other forms of violence such as homicide, armed conflict, and military expenditure, terrorism is a small percentage of the total global cost of violence, which was equal to US$14.5 trillion in 2019. However, the true economic impact of terrorism is much higher as these figures do not account for the indirect impact on business, investment, and the costs associated with security agencies in countering terrorism.

    See Original Post

  • December 01, 2020 3:44 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Verge

    Shortly after midnight on March 18th, 1990, security guard Rick Abath allowed two men dressed as police officers to enter the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. This decision may have been “the most costly mistake in art history,” according to The Boston Globe. The men stole 13 artworks worth more than $500 million and left Abath handcuffed in the basement.

    The mystery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist has never been solved. Today, the pilfered works are part of the National Stolen Art File, a database of looted treasures curated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    The 23 agents in charge of this effort are part of the FBI’s art crime team. Created in 2004, the team’s mandate is to track down and return stolen art. Its origins date back to the US invasion of Iraq when 15,000 artifacts were looted from the National Museum in Baghdad

    Special Agent Tim Carpenter, who heads up the art crime team’s efforts, says, to him, arresting the bad guys is secondary. “Our primary focus is the safe recovery of the artwork,” he explains. If criminals know the FBI is closing in, they might try to destroy the evidence, which in his case can mean works of art. “That’s happened,” he says. “They’re afraid or they’re about to get caught, and they’ll destroy the evidence, and they burn a $10 million original painting. Obviously, that’s a nightmare scenario.”

    Carpenter spoke to The Verge about how terrorist organizations use stolen art to fund their criminal enterprises, and why museum heists are still a problem in the United States, despite major advancements in museum security. 

    This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

    Your team was established in 2004. Can you tell me a bit about the idea behind it and why it felt necessary to build a group with specific expertise in tracking down stolen art?

    It started officially in 2004, but I don’t want to suggest that the FBI didn’t work art cases prior to that. We’ve had folks working these cases since the ‘70s. And frankly, the ‘70s and ‘80s were the Wild West with art heists in the United States. 

    What happened in 2003 is we were occupying Iraq. Everybody knows full well the looting that occurred at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. When that happened, the FBI was tapped on the shoulder, along with a number of other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. Basically, Congress said, “What are you guys going to do about this? We have this massive looting problem at this museum.” I think that was a seminal moment where everybody looked at each other and said, “Well, what are we going to do about this? We have some background in this and we have some expertise, but it’s these random associations of agents.” We didn’t really have a team that was capable of deploying on short notice to go and manage a massive event like this. That was the catalyst. 

    When we think about what falls under your team’s purview, just based on the National Stolen Art File, it seems like “art” encompasses jewelry, paintings, even furniture. Can you describe the scope of what your team defines as art?

    Let me carve it up into two different things. First off, the types of material. What do we define as cultural property? It pretty much could be anything, right? It’s fine art, it’s sculptures, it’s antiquities, books, manuscripts, rock and roll memorabilia, sports memorabilia. You probably saw the news: we got back the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz

    Then I’ll shift gears and break it down into the types of crimes that we look at. Our bread and butter, what we’re well-known for, are theft cases. Museum heists, stuff from galleries, stuff from private collectors, and so forth. But truthfully, that represents a relatively small portion of our portfolio. A much larger part of our portfolio these days is related to fraud. We spend a lot of time and resources investigating fraud cases that involve fakes and forgeries. And that’s across the entire gamut of all of those materials that I just described. It’s not just the fake paintings, a fake Picasso or a fake Van Gogh. We see fraud involving forgeries and fakes across every corner of the market. Whether it’s Near East antiquities or coins or manuscripts or sports memorabilia, the market is rife with fraud.

    We do a fair number of antiquities trafficking cases — particularly since 2013, when ISIS started occupying territory and destroying world heritage sites and digging up archeological sites and trafficking in that material to support their operations. 

    These days, our focus is more on money laundering. Using the art market to launder illegal proceeds is our number one priority at the moment.

    It’s interesting that terrorist groups are able to use stolen antiques as a major funding source. It seems like those items would be difficult to launder.

    Well, it’s not easy to move that material into the marketplace. We have a lot of rules and regulations, we have import restrictions. The world is paying attention, right? And particularly the material that comes out of Syria or Iraq, that stuff is extremely difficult to move and nigh impossible to move in the open market. But we do see the stuff entering into the gray markets and the black markets. 

    It’s an unfortunate truth that there are dealers and collectors across the world that aren’t necessarily concerned about the sourcing of the material. Maybe they just don’t ask questions they should ask. 

    Can you share a bit about how you go about investigating these crimes? How do you start to understand where a piece of art came from and then return it to its rightful owner? 

    These are criminal investigations. They involve art and cultural property. But at the end of the day, it’s a criminal case, and we’re going to work it just like any traditional case. How we approach a crime, though, largely depends on what the crime is. We’re going to respond to a theft case differently than we would a fraud case.

    Pick your favorite museum anywhere in the country, and say they had a heist today, and somebody stole a $30 million painting. That’s a traditional criminal case, right? I don’t want to say it’s run of the mill, but it’s a traditional case. We’re going to do the crime scene, we’re going to collect the evidence, we’re going to interview witnesses, we’re going to do all of those things that you would expect criminal investigators to do. It’s a simple whodunit. 

    I will tell you this, particularly about theft cases: what makes them a little bit different than a traditional criminal case is what we’re trying to recover. In some instances, we might be recovering an original Modigliani or an original da Vinci piece or a Rodin or whatever it might be. So for us, and I know a lot of my law enforcement colleagues cringe when I say this, but for us, in the art theft program, arresting the bad guys is really secondary. Our first and primary focus is the safe recovery of the artwork.

    Maybe we really want to go after a certain target and make sure that we can arrest them and get them prosecuted properly, but then that exposes the artwork to risk because they burn the art. That’s happened. They’re afraid or they’re about to get caught, and they’ll destroy the evidence, and they burn a $10 million original painting.

    Obviously, that’s a nightmare scenario. So you have to treat them a little bit differently than we might do a traditional criminal case. Not to say that we treat them with kid gloves, but we just have a different objective. Our primary objective is the safe recovery of the artwork.

    Now, fraud cases, they’re different. Those tend to be more of a paper case. We’re doing subpoenas and search warrants, and we’re getting email records and phone records. You have to just follow the trail. And those tend to be long. They can take a long time.

    Do you have set academics who you work with for specific types of cases, or are you constantly having to seek out new experts?

    It’s both. Obviously, we have a fairly deep Rolodex that we use. And then there’s always new stuff that’s going to come up like, “Oh, we haven’t seen this before. We’ve got to go around.” 

    I get this a lot, where people make this assumption because I’m the manager of the FBI’s art theft program that I’m some kind of a scholar or an academic. Listen, let me dispel that notion. I don’t have a PhD in art history. I’m not an archeologist. We’re criminal investigators. My expertise is in the investigation of art and culture property. It doesn’t make me an art expert. 

    When I lecture and I go out and I give these presentations, I’m always quick to point out to everybody, “Listen, I’m not an expert in any of these fields. I’m an expert at finding experts.” This is what I do for a living: I find experts to come in and help us work our cases. 

    We do have expertise on the team. And of course, you pick up stuff along the way. You can’t do these cases and not learn along the way.

    How big of an issue is art crime in the United States? I’d imagine we’re a large market for stolen art, even if theft isn’t as big of an issue anymore, compared to other parts of the world.

    The United States is the largest consumer market in the world for cultural property, and that’s licit and illicit. We’re a wealthy nation. We have a lot of money in the United States. And where there’s money, people collect, and they’re going to buy culture property. 

    There’s certainly laundering going on in the market. There’s money laundering where people are laundering illicit proceeds. Maybe it’s drug money or whatever it might be. And they’re cleaning that money through purchases in the art market, which is largely unregulated. 

    We also have provenance laundering, particularly for antiquities and so forth. They come out of the ground and are undocumented. You have to create a provenance in order to be able to sell them in the market.

    I don’t know if I’d say that we have less art crime than the rest of the world. I think we probably have more here in the United States. It’s just that we don’t suffer those Hollywood-style museum heists — that tends to be a Europe problem. We had that problem in the ’80s. Museum security has improved drastically over the years, so we see less of that now.

    We still have a fair amount of museum thefts in the United States, but they tend to be internal. About 80 percent of all museum thefts in the United States are internal thefts, out of the storage facilities instead of off the gallery floor.

    See Original Post

  • December 01, 2020 3:41 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The New York Times

    The German police said on Tuesday that they had arrested three men with links to organized crime and were searching for two other suspects in connection with the theft of gold, diamonds and other precious stones from three highly prized collections of Baroque royal jewels in a museum in Dresden last year.

    Hundreds of officers and special forces from across the country descended on a Berlin neighborhood before dawn, searching 20 apartments, two garages, a cafe and several vehicles, the authorities in Dresden, an eastern German city, said.

    “The stolen art treasures have not yet been found,” the Dresden police and prosecutors said in a joint statement, adding that numerous storage media, clothing and small amounts of narcotics had been recovered.

    The predawn break-in last Nov. 25 at the Jewel Room, one of 10 rooms in the Royal Palace museum known as the Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault, made headlines around the world because of the importance of the stolen pieces and the circumstances surrounding the crime.

    The pieces were said to have “immeasurable” cultural and historical value and the theft raised questions about security in German museums after another spectacular break-in at a Berlin museum two years earlier.

    In the Dresden heist, the thieves used an ax to break the security glass of the cases holding the jewels and stole 11 pieces, including three treasures dating to the 18th-century nobleman August the Strong, prince-elector of Saxony and little-loved ruler of Lithuania and Poland. Among the trove were sets known as the “Diamond Rose” and “Queens’ Jewelry,” along with parts of two other collections and several individual items.

    Dresden officials identified the three men arrested on Tuesday only as German citizens, two age 23 and one age 26. Thomas Geithner, a spokesman for the Dresden police, said the men were “at home in the Berlin clan milieu,” a reference to organized crime rings in the German capital that the authorities there define as being made up of members who are related to one another, or at least have a common ethnic origin.

    A judge ordered that the three suspects remain in custody pending the outcome of an investigation on suspicion of gang theft and arson. The three men made no statements regarding the potential charges.

    In February, Wissam Remmo, 23, and Ahmed Remmo, 21, two members of a family with known links to a Berlin crime ring, were each sentenced to four and a half years in a youth prison for stealing a 220-pound Canadian gold coin from the Bode Museum in Berlin in 2017. The two men, who are cousins, were also ordered to pay nearly $4 million, the value of the giant coin, which was never recovered and is believed to have been melted down and sold.

    The police and prosecutors in Dresden said on Tuesday that they were searching for two other suspects in the Green Vault heist, Abdul Majed Remmo and Mohamed Remmo, both 21, issuing warrants with their pictures and asking for tips from the public.

    Jürgen Schmidt, prosecutor in Dresden, said that investigators had relied on footage from security cameras at the entrance and inside the museum, as well as using “advanced technology,” to link the suspects detained in Berlin to the Royal Palace museum and to one of two getaway cars used in the heist.

    The top security official in Berlin, Andreas Geisel, the city-state’s interior minister, said that officers in the capital had worked closely with their colleagues in Dresden, adding that the arrests were a warning to the criminal clans.

    “This is another signal to the scene,” Mr. Geisel said in a statement. “Nobody should believe that they can ignore this state and its rules. ”

    The objects in the Green Vault belong to a collection of Baroque jewels that have survived together largely unscathed from the 18th century. The Royal Palace building was heavily damaged during World War II, but it was painstakingly rebuilt after German reunification and reopened to the public in 2006. The rooms hold a collection of about 3,000 individual objects.

    The stolen jewels were not insured and museum officials would not give a figure for their value, insisting that their worth lay in their historical and cultural significance as part of a complete royal collection.

    Because they are unique, the pieces would be extremely difficult to hawk on the open market, leading to fears that they could be broken down, with the gems re-cut and the gold melted.

    See Original Post

  • December 01, 2020 3:37 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AAM

    Almost all US museums closed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. While a few reopened by summer, many decided to remain shuttered for the entire year, and often for these museums the only way to engage with the public has been via digital platforms. While we wait for the pandemic to end, museums must adapt to operating in a time of heightened concern regarding health and sanitation. Digital technologies can help museums enhance safety for staff and visitors, reassure the public, and reach audiences not ready to visit in person. However, digital solutions require time, training, and integration in addition to hard costs. What digital tools can help support museums during hard times to come, and how can museums assess whether and when to adopt these solutions?

    This post is designed to help museum staff think through the pros and cons of potential digital strategies that may help museums face three challenges in the peri- and post-pandemic era:

    • Staying engaged with the public while they cannot or will not visit in person;
    • Managing attendance upon reopening;
    • Creating safe interactive experiences in the museum galleries.

    For each challenge, I provide an overview, review some potential digital solutions, and offer a set of considerations for evaluating the ROI of implementing these solutions. I hope you use this as a resource to fuel your conversations and inform decisions about the strategic use of digital in the coming year.

    Staying Engaged with the Public

    In June 2020, during the first wave of closures, most museums reported using some form of digital engagement to serve the public. (According the AAM’s June COVID Snapshot, three-quarters provided educational resources for children, parents, and teachers; more than half provided resources for college students and adults; sixty percent offered livestream or prerecorded lectures, and sixty-four percent offered other types of digital entertainment or activities.) Some of these efforts received considerable press, and a few museums increased their followers on social media by orders of magnitude when their content went viral. But it is difficult to measure the overall success of these efforts because, in many cases, museums leapt into digital content production without clear expectations for the outcome. To set useful goals around public engagement, museums need to identify what the public wants in terms of digital content, what they actually use, and what the museum gets in return.

    Some Digital Solutions

    • Sharing content or activities via social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
    • Offering online activities (games, escape rooms, downloadable projects)
    • Creating digital content (videos, portals to collections or exhibits)
    • Organizing virtual events (galas, happy hours)

    Considerations for evaluating ROI

    Who is the museum trying to reach? For example,

    • Members
    • Visitors
    • Specific target audiences such as parents, school children, older individuals experiencing social isolation
    • General public

    To what end? For example:

    • Prime people to visit when the museum reopens.
    • Help groups face specific challenges (e.g., parents in need of tools to entertain children, students in need of learning resources, isolated individuals in need of social connection).
    • Cultivate gratitude/appreciation for the museum’s work (which may translate, long-term, into support).
    • Grow new audiences (that may remain digital).
    • Develop services the museum may want to continue post-pandemic (e.g., online courses, virtual recreations of exhibits, an online store).

    How does a given solution connect to the museum’s business plan? For example, will it:

    • Demonstrate the museum’s value to potential funders (government entities; philanthropic foundations).
    • Inspire members to maintain their membership.
    • Create connections that can be mined during fundraising (e.g., #GivingTuesday on Twitter; crowdfunding projects; participation in virtual fundraising events).
    • Build income streams through advertising, fees, or opportunities to donate.

    This last point is particularly critical. With revenue from attendance, events, and onsite sales on pause, many are asking whether museums can monetize digital income to fill the gap. The short answer is yes, but it isn’t easy. While there is robust demand for digital content, there is also ample competition, and users expect high-quality, engaging products to make it worth the cost. Advertising revenue is tied to reach, which takes time and strategy to build.

    Lastly, what are the solution’s vulnerabilities?

    • Does it depend on a free commercial platform outside your control? (Communications strategies and ad income build around Facebook, YouTube, etc., for example, are at the mercy of policy changes or continued functionality of the platform.)
    • Will the museum be able to afford to pay for fixes, improvements, upgrades, especially if the solution was initially affordable due to grant funding, or donated expertise?

    Managing Attendance

    States and cities typically established regulations for staged reopening that included attendance limitations for indoor venues. For museums, attendance in initially stages has typically been capped at twenty-five to fifty percent capacity. Even in states and cities with no regulatory limits, many museums choose to enforce voluntary limitations, particularly if their indoor spaces are small, or configured in such a way that is was not possible to impose one-way flow of visitors through the galleries. Colleen Dilenschneider, of IMPACTS Research, found that by July of 2020, twenty-six percent of the public identified limited attendance as a factor that would make them feel safe and comfortable visiting museums again, while “avoiding long lines” clocked in at twenty-four percent.

    Some Digital Solutions

    Several kinds of online booking systems enable the museum to offer reservations, free passes or ticketing, tied to timed entry. These include:

    • Third party booking platforms. These companies typically charge a fee for each sale, but some, such as Eventbrite, do not charge users for free “events.”
    • Modules offered as part of existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Point of Sale (POS) systems. This can be an affordable option for museums already using CRM or POS systems, with the additional benefit that information gathered during the ticketing process can be added directly to the museum’s database on performance and customer history.
    • Systems designed to support dynamic pricing. A growing number of museums (notably zoos) have adopted so-called “buy-ahead” pricing which sets advance ticket prices using data on attendance, weather, travel bookings, school schedules and other relevant sources to project demand. This allows the museum to steer visitors towards underused times, maximize the profit from premium times, and ensure that affordable options are available as well.

    Considerations for evaluating ROI

    • How will online ticketing affect the process of welcoming people into the museum? Digital tickets can increase safety by helping maintain physical distancing. Moving sales and ticketing online may also reduce the number of staff needed to manage admissions at the door.
    • What data will the system collect? Contact and demographic information can be used for marketing as well as for tracking attendance trends. This information can be critical to improving targeted communications and business decisions about staffing and marketing. During the pandemic, it can also facilitate contact tracing.
    • How will this data interface with other museum data? Tracking the behavior of individual visitors/members (with due attention to privacy) can support sophisticated personalization of services and communication.
    • In the case of both points above, how will the data actually be used? Data is only valuable when it is used to inform decisions. To realize this value, the museum has to ensure staff are working across departments to use data from ticketing to shape marketing and communications plans, set prices, and make decisions about staffing, hours, etc. The software systems mentioned above (CRM, POS, dynamic pricing) can automate data analysis, but still require decision makers to make use of the results.
    • What is the projected effect of the ticketing system on revenue? Online ticketing can make it easier for the museum to experiment with extended hours, or special (fee-based) exclusive access for families or small groups. Time-based pricing can increase per capita profits from ticketing.
    • What is the potential impact on accessibility and equity? Requiring online reservations or ticketing is one more barrier to people without reliable access to digital connectivity. The museum many need to find ways to accommodate walk-in visitors without making them feel excluded or out-of-the-loop.

    Touchless tech

    Early in the pandemic, much of the messaging around disease prevention focused on disinfecting surfaces, hand washing, and use of hand sanitizer. Despite growing consensus that fomites (objects carrying the virus) are relatively minor risk for COVID transmission, public expectations regarding surface cleaning remain high. A large majority of museums have increased or plan to increase the frequency of cleaning upon reopening, and many have shifted cleaning to visible, daytime hours. But even such performative cleaning may not overcome peoples’ aversion to being in a high-touch environment while the pandemic persists.

    During the pandemic, museums may respond to this aversion by shutting down interactive elements that require touch. However, it’s unlikely that the current situation will reverse the decades-long trend of increasing emphasis on interactive experiences in all sorts of museums. Going forward, it may be practical to combine increased cleaning with the implementation of a variety of touchless interactive technologies, ranging from the well-established to the emergent.

    Some Digital Solutions

    Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

    One solution to is to co-opt the technology most visitors already bring into the museum—smart phones—which they are confident carry only their own germs. Many museums are removing printed handouts and gallery guides during the pandemic: the text can be made available on the museum’s website or as downloadable PDFs. Museums can also install applications designed allow personal devices to interface with existing touchscreens, kiosks, ATMs and other interactive displays. [Nick—I’m familiar with FreeTouch. Do you know if it has competitors, or is it in anyway unique?] Many museums already use apps, IM interfaces and chatbots to interact with the public via smart phones—the pandemic may accelerate the adoption of these communications channels as well.

    Hover Technology

    Another touch-free adaptation is to install screens that respond to proximity rather than contact. Such screens have been available since 2012, but the most common systems require a user to position their hand quite close to the screen, and users may mistake these for touch screens, or touch inadvertently when they attempt to trigger the controls. “Deep Hover” technology, currently in development, will let users to control an interface from anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more above the display. (An additional cool feature: by delivering information about the user’s hand position at high speed as “pre-interaction information,” associated software can speed response time by using machine learning and AI to make decisions about a user’s intent before they have completed an action.)

    Gesture-based Interactives

    Many museums already make effective use of gesture-control interfaces developed for gaming (Wii for Nintendo, Kinect for Xbox). Responsive to whole body motion, these systems can be intuitive, accessible, and require no special device on the part of visitors. They support the creation of social, playful multi-user experiences that allow visitors to interact with digital adaptations of collections items, or with born-digital creations.

    Considerations for Evaluating ROI

    • For whom is the solution designed, and what are the benefits?
    • Are there partners who can help the museum design and maintain appropriate solutions? This might include students or staff at local colleges or universities, maker groups or collaboratives, individual artists or technologists.
    • What is the cost to build, install, and maintain the system?
    • Is the system bespoke, or off the shelf? Bespoke systems are vulnerable to obsolescence if the original designer, or museum staff, can’t update to keep pace with changes in hardware and software. On the other hand, interactives built around commonly available commercial systems may be left stranded if those systems are discontinued.
    • What kind of maintenance will the system require, and how long is it projected to last? Nothing makes for a more frustrating visitor experience than interactive displays that are malfunctioning or out of service. Especially during a time of staff constraints, can the museum ensure that digital interactives are quickly replaced or repaired? What will the museum need to budget, and on what time frame, for the replacement and upgrades?
    • Is it intuitive and easy for visitors to find and use? For many years bespoke museum apps were seen as the solution to delivering information and experiences in the gallery, but many potentially great apps foundered on the fact that very few visitors actually download them. (Barriers include: making visitors aware the app exists; providing strong, reliable Wi-Fi to support rapid downloads onsite; making the application easy to learn and use.) Some museums solve this problem by coopting systems that visitors already spend time on (Facebook messenger, text messaging). One of the beauties of gestural control systems (like Kinect) is that they are super intuitive—visitors learn to use them through experimentation, rather than by reading instructions.
    • Is it a solution that will be appropriate and desirable, even if/when concerns about surface sanitation ease?
    • Does the solution create new challenges to equity and inclusion? BYOD depends on a significant percentage of visitors having the relevant technology. In some cases it may be preferable to offer content, such as audio tracks, that are triggered via proximity rather than pushing to a digital device. Some gesture-based interfaces are not designed to recognize the actions of people using wheelchairs.

    I hope these questions help you frame discussions with your colleagues, board, and staff about what technologies might be worth adopting in the next year. Please, share your experiences with evaluating and adopting digital solutions to pandemic challenges with your colleagues via social media, on the AAM discussion board Museum Junction, and in comments on this post. We are all learning together.

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  • December 01, 2020 3:35 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Art Newspaper

    A new database that aims to provide a comprehensive registry of all the Jewish collections looted by the Nazis has announced a pilot project focussing on the fate of the collection of Adolphe Schloss, whose store of Dutch Old Masters was seized by the Gestapo from the French chateau where they had been hidden for safekeeping. One third of the collection is still missing.

    The Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project, initiated by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Commission for Art Recovery, has received funding of €490,000 from the European Union’s Creative Europe programme. In addition to listing both missing and recovered art, it will explore the looting networks and the trade and digitise thousands of documents and photographs from archives.

    “It is really a revolutionary project to amass and build a comprehensive database of all cultural objects looted by the Nazis and their allies in order to show fully what was taken, from whom, by whom, and the fate of the objects,” says Wesley Fisher, a member of the executive board of the JDCRP.

    While there are already several databases of looted art in existence, none can claim to be fully comprehensive and not all are uniquely focussed on art plundered from Jews in the Nazi era. The JDCRP aims to differentiate itself by taking Jewish collections as its starting-point and using an event-based approach to trace the route the objects took, says the project manager Avishag Ben-Yosef. “We would like to introduce people to a different way of looking at objects and emphasize the different events, art dealers, collectors, family relations, etc. that drove the movement of the objects in the collection,” she says.

    The project aims to have an initial mock-up online by the end of June 2021. For more information, visit the Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project website.

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  • December 01, 2020 3:30 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Atlas Obscura

    On the afternoon of February 21, 2006, Norbert Schild sat down at a desk in the reading room of the City Library of Trier, in western Germany, and opened a 400-year-old book on European geography. Working quickly, Schild laid a piece of blank white paper on top of the book, took a boxcutter from his lap, and discreetly sliced out a map of Alsace from pages 375 and 376.

    Schild hadn’t noticed that the desks of two librarians, who were normally tasked with locating books for readers, were raised about three feet above the floor—giving them a clear view of his movements. They approached Schild and asked him what he was doing.

    “It was worth a try,” Schild told them. He tossed his library card down on the table and hurried out of the building, taking the map with him.

    Stunned, the librarians went to the director of the City Library, Gunther Franz. A mustachioed specialist in the history of the book, Franz gathered two witnesses from the reading room and filed a police report. He also emailed German libraries with a warning. Schild had introduced himself as a historian, Franz wrote, and was of medium height with a stocky build, unkempt blond hair, prominent jewelry.

    In his email, Franz dubbed Schild the Büchermarder, or “book marten.” Martens are carnivorous mammals that often steal bird eggs and are notoriously difficult to get rid of. The nickname stuck.

    Almost 300 miles away, at a library in Oldenburg, a small town close to the North Sea, Klaus-Peter Müller read Franz’s email. His face went pale. He knew Norbert Schild.

    The so-called book marten had been a regular visitor at the Regional Library of Oldenburg, where he had introduced himself as a doctoral student focusing on historical travel literature and atlases. Müller recalls talking with Schild about his research. “I was completely unsuspecting,” he says.

    Müller and his colleague, an eloquent younger librarian named Corinna Roeder, went through their records for information about Schild’s visits. Most of it had already been destroyed: Oldenburg, like most German libraries, follows strict privacy policies. But they had one clue. Schild had last visited the library in the fall of 2005. He’d planned to come back, and the books he’d requested had been set aside.

    Müller and Roeder began combing through the volumes. Two of them, including a valuable Spanish geography tome, were unharmed. The third, Louis Renard’s Atlas van Zeevaert en Koophandel door de geheule Weereldt, a sea-and-trade atlas from 1745, seemed fine at first glance—but then they looked closer.

    Schild had cut out nine maps, including Renard’s rendering of the entire known world and intricate illustrations of southeast Asia and the Hudson Bay. He’d also cut out the appendix, which included the list of those maps. As if that weren’t enough, he’d also taken a pencil and numbered the remaining maps in tiny writing on the upper right-hand corner, in the manner of a professional archivist. Only an attentive reader would notice what was missing.

    “I was sitting there, and I could hardly breathe,” Roeder recalls. “He was really a professional.”

    Roeder filed a report with the Oldenburg police. (She later estimated the damages at between $44,130 and $48,800.) At the recommendation of an acquaintance, she also scoured online auctions for maps that could have come from the Renard book. She compared sales photos with the distinctive coloring, size, paper yellowing, and wrinkles of the Oldenburg atlas, and emailed antiques dealers, asking about the provenance of the maps on sale.

    By Easter, Roeder had narrowed her search down to two sellers. On a sunny day in early May, 2006, Roeder and her colleague Klaus-Peter Müller climbed into the Oldenburg Library’s red VW Golf and drove off in search of the missing maps. “We felt like we were in a road movie,” Roeder says.

    Roeder and Müller drove the 300 miles from Oldenburg to Ghent, Belgium, with Renard’s damaged atlas in the back seat. The maps at the first auction house, they soon realized, didn’t match. The size and surface of the paper was different; the missing Oldenburg original had been in better condition.

    After a night in a hotel, they drove another 60 miles to Breda, Holland, where they visited Antiquariaat Plantijn, a small, well-kept antique store. Dieter Duncker, the proprietor, was considerate and spoke excellent German. He showed Roeder and Müller the documents in question. They examined the pages and took measurements.

    “The four maps fit,” Roeder says with a pause, “perfectly to our atlas.”

    Roeder and Müller were not the only librarians who recognized the name Norbert Schild. In 1988, Schild allegedly made off with a series of illustrations of the Rhine river from the University and Regional Library in Darmstadt. In 2002, a newly restored 1616 book by the philosopher and astronomer Johannes Kepler went missing in Bonn.

    Within a month of sending his email to German librarians, Franz had gathered a list of 20 institutions that believed that Schild had stolen pages from their books. On one occasion, Schild allegedly introduced himself as a freelance arts journalist.

    At the University Library in Munich, Sven Kuttner, the head of the department of old books, also received Gunther Franz’s email. In 2005, Schild had spent months in the library, claiming to be a scholar working on a bibliography of historical maps from 1500 and later. Nearly 50 books that Schild had examined were missing pages. Kuttner remembers Schild’s large rings, which he now believes had sharp edges or were used to conceal a tiny knife. “He was always making eye contact,” Kuttner says. “Back then we didn’t think much of it.”

    Kuttner filed a police report and banned Schild from the library. He also purchased a scale that is accurate to a hundredth of a gram. The library now weighs rare books immediately before and after use.

    After collecting accounts from librarians across Germany, Franz forwarded the allegations to the state prosecutor’s office in Bonn. An investigation had already been opened, in response to the 2002 theft of the Kepler book. Franz felt confident that charges would result. Though Schild had been active since at least 1988, Trier was the first time he had been caught “in flagranti.”

    During their trip to Breda, Roeder and Müller were also optimistic. The antique map seller agreed that his pages looked like an excellent match for the missing Oldenburg documents, and he told the librarians that he would take them off the market and cooperate with an official investigation.

    Duncker had purchased the maps in February 2006, at a flea market for historical illustrations in Paris. A gaunt German—probably not Schild—had approached Duncker and offered to sell him the four maps for €5,000. They didn’t exchange invoices, names, or contact details.

    Some librarians criticize antiques sellers for their see-no-evil approach to historical documents. “If they don’t see anything suspicious about the book, like a library stamp, then they don’t ask where it originated,” says Roeder. When asked whether he believes the pages he purchased were stolen, Duncker answers, “How should I know exactly?”

    Like it or not, there is significant international demand for antique maps. René Allonge, a lead investigator with Berlin’s art crimes unit who worked Schild’s case, says, “You think, ‘Who would bother with this? Can you even make money with it?’ Yes. There is a market.” One librarian estimates that in the late 1990s, Schild could have earned about 200,000 Deutsche Marks, or more than $100,000, per year from his alleged thefts.

    All over Germany, librarians waited for the Bonn state prosecutor’s investigation to proceed. But they never filed charges against Schild. The evidence was largely circumstantial: While libraries could show that Schild used the damaged books, they couldn’t necessarily prove that he was the one cutting out the pages. A search warrant executed at Schild’s home on November 22, 2002, turned up “tools of the trade,” such as bibliographies and lists of historical materials at Germany libraries, but no actual stolen maps. Prosecutors in Bonn were busy, and the stakes may have seemed low—old books, not human lives. The charges in Trier—where Schild was caught red-handed—were dropped due to negligibility, after damages were estimated at just €500. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Bonn declined to comment.

    Corinna Roeder didn’t give up on the Renard atlas. In December 2008, realizing that the investigation had stalled, she began negotiating with Duncker privately for the return of the maps. When they failed to agree on a price, Duncker sold them elsewhere.

    Without the support of law enforcement officials, Germany’s librarians embarked on a game of cat and marten with Schild that lasted another 13 years. In that period, Schild visited at least 15 more libraries all over the country. Twenty-two years after his first visit, he made an appointment to visit the University Library in Darmstadt. The librarians set a trap, but Schild didn’t show.

    “I still regret that,” says Silvia Uhlemann, the head of the historical collections department there. That same day, Schild appeared in Düsseldorf instead. As libraries got organized, Schild allegedly began using pseudonyms and working with accomplices.

    Through his lawyer, Schild declined to comment for this story unless Atlas Obscura paid for an exclusive interview.

    In July 2017, Schild, this time calling himself a history professor emeritus, visited the library of the University of Innsbruck, in the Austrian Alps. After he left, a librarian named Claudia Sojer plugged Schild’s name into a library newsletter and came across the warnings. She looked through the book Schild had studied—a 1627 volume by Johannes Kepler—and realized that an engraved world map, valued at €30,000, was missing. (She had been in the room with Schild, but had left briefly for a bathroom break.) Finally, prosecutors in Schild’s home district of Witten, near Bochum, managed to bring him in front of a court on charges of theft.

    Schild was now 65 years old, and his reputation as a book thief dated back over 30 years. The trial took place in April 2019. The alleged book marten had a white mustache, wore a blue blazer, and walked with the aid of a purple crutch. He told local reporters, “The charges are ridiculous,” and said that he had been looking forward to the trial.

    In the courtroom, Schild sipped Diet Coke, speaking only to say that the map was already gone by the time he accessed the Kepler book. His lawyer argued that the document could have been stolen by anyone, including a library employee. A search warrant failed, again, to turn up anything at Schild’s house.

    The proceedings revealed a cache of new information about Schild. He was once a salesman of industrial equipment. He has three grown children and has been married four times. His lawyer told the court that Schild had been dogged by financial worries, often taking on odd jobs to keep himself afloat.

    As it turned out, Schild had been convicted of more than a dozen prior counts of theft and fraud. He usually got off with a fine or probation, but he did serve one jail sentence of a year and a half, in the early 2000s. The judge on the 2019 case, Barbara Monstadt, sentenced Schild to one year and eight months of jail time without the possibility of parole.

    Corinna Roeder wishes that a similar sentence had been handed down sooner: Fines and probation didn’t stop Schild. Just days after he was caught red-handed in Trier, Schild appeared at a library in Halle. “How much mischief do you have to make to be punished, and then stop doing it?” asks Roeder.

    Schild is currently appealing. “The evidence is all circumstantial,” his lawyer said after the verdict. Schild has not yet begun his sentence, and the legal proceedings are currently on hold due to his ill health: He says he is suffering from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

    A photograph of Schild, looking roguish in a suit and tie, still hangs in the Regional Library of Oldenburg. It’s on a bookshelf behind the information desk, next to the printer and some dictionaries. The photograph is out of the way and unmarked, and could even be mistaken it for a keepsake. Only library staff know that it’s a warning.

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  • December 01, 2020 3:28 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AP News

    In response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers, the Smithsonian Institution is indefinitely shutting down operations at all its facilities, effective Monday and affecting seven museums, plus the National Zoo.

    The Smithsonian said in a statement that its “top priority is to protect the health and safety of its visitors and staff.” No reopening date is scheduled.

    The decision comes at a time of rising speculation over whether the District of Columbia will tighten virus restrictions in the face of a nationwide spike. Local figures, both for the number of new positive tests and the government’s preferred metric of a seven-day rolling average per 100,000, are at their highest point since May.

    After shuttering all facilities in mid-March, the Smithsonian reopened the National Zoo on a limited basis on July 24, with all indoor buildings closed and timed entry passes to limit crowds. Since then, Smithsonian officials have gradually opened up other facilities, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of African-American History and Culture. 

    The closure of the zoo’s indoor facilities has meant that fans of the ever-popular pandas had to resort to webcams to get a glimpse of the new baby panda cub born to matriarch Mei Xiang in August. 

    “Due to the changing nature of the situation, we are not announcing a reopening date at this time,” the Smithsonian said in its statement. “We will use this time to reassess, monitor and explore additional risk-mitigation measures.”

    The nation’s capital is at the second phase of its reopening plan, which permits limited indoor seating in restaurants but requires all adults to wear masks outside their homes. Both Maryland and Virginia have recently boosted their restrictions, but D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said there were fewer rollbacks necessary in the city because it had consistently been more conservative that its neighbors.

    “We have been very deliberate,” she said Wednesday. “We never had bars open. We never had spectators at sporting events.”

    Bowser said her team is discussing more targeted “interventions” that they believe will have a tangible impact on the spread of the virus. She said those changes are coming soon.

    Bowser has repeatedly warned about the dangers of small family gatherings such as birthday parties, and has appealed to her residents to skip the traditional Thanksgiving family meal this year. With the exception of Maryland and Virginia, which are exempted, residents of every state other than Hawaii and Vermont are currently required to receive a COVID-19 test before travelling to Washington.

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