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  • July 07, 2021 10:22 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AAM

    The near term future is looking much brighter than it was in March 2020, when I published my first set of scenarios exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic might play out. While the death toll in the US has surpassed 600,000 (a grim statistic that falls between the middle and worst case scenarios I explored at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns), cases and deaths are both trending downwards. Over forty percent of the US population is vaccinated, including over 76% of people sixty-five or older (the age cohort most grievously damaged by the coronavirus). Many states and municipalities are lifting restrictions, and as of the end of April, over 70 percent of US museums had reopened to the public.

    This progress doesn’t mean that museums can relax their planning, trusting that everything will continue to get better over the remainder of the year. The current promising trajectory could be disrupted by a number of factors, and scenario planning is just as important now as it was in spring 2020. In today’s post, I summarize recent findings that suggest a scenario in which the US recovery from the pandemic slows, and we experience new surges in some areas.

    Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus, also known as B.1.617.2, is now considered a “variant of concern.” Research suggests that this variant, which was first identified in India, is 60 percent more contagious than the Alpha strain that originally dominated the US, and is associated with double the risk of hospitalization. While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines seem to provide good protection against Delta, there is some laboratory evidence that they may somewhat less effective.

    At the time of the CDC announcement, the Delta variant was responsible for 10.3 percent of US Covid-19 cases, up 6 percent from only a week ago. Ten percent is about the “tipping point” at which when Delta began spreading rapidly through the UK, where it is now the dominant strain. Dr. Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, recently noted that as the Delta variant “doubles every seven to 10 days…when it gets to three weeks from now, this variant will be dominant. That means we have two to three weeks to just go flat out with vaccination to stop this trend.”

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t look likely we’ll be able to supercharge the vaccination rate in the US. Although 43.9 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated, the rate at which people are getting vaccinated has been slowing down, and some states have stalled at dangerously low levels: Mississippi 29%; Alabama  <31%; Arkansas, <33%; Louisiana, Georgia, and Wyoming all <34%, according to CDC data. Elsewhere in the country, there are localized communities with very low vaccination rates. (For example, in Borough Park, NYC less than 11% of the population is vaccinated, due to vaccine hesitancy among Hasidic Jews). And some demographic groups, such as children under the age of 12 and people who are immunocompromised, remain at risk because they aren’t yet eligible for or can’t safely use the vaccine.

    For all these reasons, museums—particularly museums in states or communities with low vaccination rates—should be prepared for the possibility of a local surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and reimposition of precautions such as closures, limits on attendance, and mandatory masking. (The contagiousness and severity of Delta has prompted the British government to delay easing their coronavirus restrictions by a full month.) Even local surges could affect attitudes nationally about continued mask use, distancing, and willingness to visit museums.

    This isn’t a forecast or prediction, it’s just sketching, for your radar, a near term future that falls well within the bounds of the Cone of Plausibility. (I’d peg it to the “plausible” Zone in the following diagram of the Cone—the area which current knowledge suggests a set of conditions “could happen.”)

    What can museum people do?

    • Monitor local COVID metrics and announcements from the CDC, state and local government to track the effect Delta is having on your community.
    • Prepare a plan for responding to a COVID resurgence—including communications, internal procedures, and budgeting for reclosing and reopening.
    • Finally, even if things continue to improve in your community, remember that everyone is recovering (physically and psychologically) at their own rate, and for many the trauma of the past year will linger for a long time. Your staff and your community continue to need your support and understanding as we emerge from the pandemic.

    Never assume you know what the future will be, especially in such an unsettled year. Spending a little mental and emotional energy on scenarios now will make a potential crisis less costly.

    See Original Post

  • July 07, 2021 10:14 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Smithsonian Magazine

    Greek police finally cracked a nine-year-old art heist this week, leading to the celebrated return of two paintings by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian. These works and one unrecovered drawing were stolen from the National Gallery-Alexandros Soutsos Museum in Athens on January 9, 2012, in a sensational early-morning heist.

    Acting on tips from Greek newspaper Proto Thema, police apprehended their primary suspect, construction worker George Sarmatzopoulos, on Monday, per a police statement.

    To the surprise of officials, Sarmatzopoulos confessed to the theft outright. He then directed police to a dried ravine southeast of Athens, where they discovered the two stolen artworks wrapped in protective plastic and stowed underneath a thicket of brambles.

    Based on the well-organized nature of the crime, police had previously assumed that the burglary was carried out by two or more people, as the Associated Press reported in 2012. But in his testimony, partially reprinted in the Greek newspaper Kathimerinithe 49-year-old divorcee claims that he alone pulled off the job.

    “I want to tell you something else that I did many years ago, and it weighs on my conscience and I cannot sleep,” Sarmatzopoulos began his statement to police, as translated by the Art Newspaper and reported in Kathimerini. “In 2012, I went into the National Gallery and took three paintings. I will tell you everything in as much detail as I can remember.”

    Sarmatzopoulos further claims that he began to visit the National Gallery constantly for about six months leading up to the crime, until thoughts of stealing a work for himself “tormented” him. He never planned to sell the paintings, he claims: “I hadn’t decided which work I would take, but only that I wanted to take one.”

    Rather, he seems to have intended to keep the works to enjoy. The man referred to himself multiple times as an “art lover,” and used to wield the Twitter username “Art Freak,” as Helen Stoilas reports for the Art Newspaper.

    Sarmatzopoulos says that he spent months collecting information on the locations of paintings, security cameras, where to enter and exit the building and when the guards typically took smoke breaks, as Helena Smith reports for the Guardian.

    On a randomly chosen Sunday evening, he says that he began to intentionally set off alarms in the museum without entering the building, prompting the sole night guard on duty to disable at least one of the alarms. Around four in the morning, dressed in black, the alleged thief then entered through an unlocked balcony door and crawled into the galleries.

    “I crawled into the room and started waving my arms to see if the alarm radars were working,” Sarmatzopoulos relates in his testimony, as printed in Kathimerini and translated via Google Translate. “Since I did not hear any alarm, I assumed that the guard had turned it off. I got up and found myself in front of Picasso’s painting.”

    In less than seven minutes, he carefully stripped three works from their frames: Woman’s Head (1939), a Cubist portrait that Picasso made of his one-time lover Dora Maar; Piet Mondrian’s Stammer Mill (1909), an early figurative work by the Dutch artist depicting a windmill; and a work in pen and ink by Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia, dating to the 16th century.

    While the two paintings were recovered this week, the third stolen work remains missing. Sarmatzopoulos tells police that the paper was damaged during the raid and that he eventually flushed it down a toilet, BBC News reports.

    He stowed the works in his home and in a remote warehouse for years. Then, in January, after reading a report that police were close to solving the decade-old mystery, Sarmatzopoulos frantically moved the paintings from storage to their hiding place in the ravine, as Dimitris Popotas and Aria Kalyva report for Greek newspaper Proto Thema.

    At the time of the theft, Greece’s economy was reeling from the economic recession and a protracted debt crisis, per the Guardian. Later investigations found that limited funding led to severe security lapses at the museum, including a lack of guards, an outdated alarm system and reduced security camera coverage.

    The National Gallery closed shortly after the heist in 2013 for an 8-year-long, $70-milion (€59 million) expansion, which more than doubled the museum’s size, as William Summerfield reported for the Art Newspaper in March. Though attendance remains limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum finally reopened on March 24 of this year to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Greek independence, the Ministry of Culture noted in a statement.

    “Today is really a special day, a great joy but also a great emotion,” Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni said at a Tuesday press conference, per the police statement.

    Mendoni notes that Picasso donated Woman’s Head to Greece in honor of the country’s resistance to Nazi Germany during World War II. On the back of the canvas, the Spanish artist wrote in French: “For the Greek people, a tribute by Picasso.” (That distinctive signature would have made the painting “impossible” to sell on the black market, the minister adds.)

    “Picasso had dedicated the painting to the Greek people as a recognition of the National Resistance,” Minister of Citizen Protection Michalis Chrysochoidis said during the conference, per the statement. He noted that while “[a] Greek was found to deprive” the country of the precious painting, “Greeks were found to bring it back.”

    Chrysochoidis added: “I wish all the works of art of our Greek homeland to find their natural place, to return to where they belong.”

    See Original Post

  • June 22, 2021 9:31 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    IFCPP is honored to appoint Michael-John Waite as the newest member of its prestigious Advisory Board! Michael-John is an active IFCPP contributor that has provided the Foundation with a host of timely and outstanding educational offerings and other valuable resources. His expertise in a variety of areas is on the cutting edge of cultural property protection. IFCPP and its managing entity, Layne Consultants International, are proud to partner with Mr. Waite and Armite International to bring additional resources to the Foundation’s growing community.

    Michael-John Waite, CIPM II serves as the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Armite International Security Solutions, a minority and veteran-owned strategic advisement company in the Washington, DC Metro Area. Michael-John specializes in intelligence gathering/threat monitoring, controversial artwork/collections, protests and civil unrest, risk assessment (TVRAs), litigation avoidance/management, emergency management, physical and electronic security measures, security operations centers, communications and PR, and Executive protection.  He also serves as the Director of Crisis & Risk for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Michael-John oversees several critical-operations programs including Intelligence and Investigations, Emergency Preparedness, and Crisis & Risk Management.

    Additionally, Michael-John serves as a legal liaison and active shooter response/preparedness instructor.  Michael-John has worked with several global organizations to develop emergency preparedness/response procedures, manage security operations and personnel, and conduct investigations. Michael-John holds professional certifications as a Red Cross Instructor, Executive Protection Specialist, Certified Institutional Protection Manager (CIPM II), and security technology installer/maintainer. Previously, Michael-John contracted with the Department of Defense and served as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff. Michael-John is an active member of ASIS International, AAM, IAAPA, and InfraGard. He is also a member of, and regular instructor for the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP). Michael-John holds a Bachelors of Science in International Relations and Global Security Management, is working towards a Masters, and is preparing for Certified Protection Professional (CPP) certification. When not involved in security related functions, Michael-John also serves at the President of Anchor & Vine Global Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to international missions and humanitarian aid. 

  • June 22, 2021 9:11 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AAM

    African American museums across the country bear a glorious responsibility to educate and engage, to inform and inspire, to bring together and build. As anchors for this engagement throughout the year, we celebrate cultural holidays, from King Day in January to Kwanzaa in December, embracing them as opportunities to celebrate heritage and inspire hope. In the middle of the year lands Juneteenth, a festive cultural holiday that reminds all Americans to remember the past, reflect upon the present, and renew ourselves for the future. Juneteenth is all at once a historical event, a cultural commemoration, and a reminder. It reminds us to be vigilant and to live out the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “None of us are free until we are all free.”

    It was on June 19, 1865, that the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned they were free. The news arrived more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and months before the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished the institution of slavery. One of many important milestones in the nation’s long journey toward emancipation, June 19 is unique in that it does not commemorate a legislative or bureaucratic achievement, but a community celebration of when the last of the enslaved people in the United States finally learned they were free.

    African Americans have commemorated this date for 155 years, but the video-captured murder of George Floyd in May 2020 ignited a nationwide racial reckoning and sparked renewed interest in Juneteenth among more Americans than ever before. Many people across the nation discovered Juneteenth for the first time in 2020, and they channeled it as an opportunity to rise up against systemic injustices. Against the backdrop of 2020, Americans saw Juneteenth with new eyes, as an inflection point for asking important questions of ourselves and our society: What does freedom really mean? How long will injustice and inequity be the reality in America? What can I do to make change?

    This renewed interest was an opportunity for Black museums, but we had to figure out how to seize that opportunity while contending with the public health guidelines that had forced museums to close our physical doors and rethink our approach to programming. So, I met with Ahmad Ward, Executive Director of the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and together we developed the idea of joining forces to host a national virtual collaboration uniting Black museums in celebration of Juneteenth.

    In 2020, amidst COVID-19 realities and social justice aspirations, the inaugural national virtual Juneteenth collaboration brought a sense of cultural inspiration and historical information to communities across the country. Through robust media partnering, over ninety-two thousand people tuned in to the production, which featured appearances by the first African American Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Lonnie Bunch, the first African American Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, as well as notable historians, spoken word artists, and other luminaries. The conversations held in homes and offices as people tuned in to the production helped to educate and empower viewers.

    This year, what started as an idea for virtually uniting communities in lockdown has grown to an ongoing collaboration between ten of the nation’s premier Black museums. On June 15, Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) will join forces with nine other Black museums across the nation to commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate our shared mission to preserve and uplift Black history and culture with a virtual event, Juneteenth: Lift Every Voice. Unifying under the name of BlkFreedom Collective and around the theme “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” together we will commemorate the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth via a nationally televised virtual program featuring vibrant cultural and educational activations. Each museum has selected a theme from the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to guide their short video contribution. As part of the program, NAAM will debut our new African American Cultural Ensemble (ACE), a choir that will explore the theme of hope with a multimedia performance. The virtual event will also feature guest appearances by members of the Congressional Black Caucus reading excerpts of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as luminaries Dr. Johnnetta Cole and Lonnie Bunch reading excerpts of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

    In addition to the virtual program, this collaborative Juneteenth program will feature a national expansion of NAAM’s Knowledge is Power Book Giveaway program, which provides free children’s books celebrating Black culture to K-12 students across the Seattle region. Sponsored by the T-Mobile Foundation, the nationwide Juneteenth extension of the program will provide culturally relevant children’s books for distribution at all ten BlkFreedom Collective museums plus five additional locations nationwide.

    Spanning the entire country and united in mission, participating museums include America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Amistad Research Center of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan, Harvey Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, Washington.

    Museums serve as messengers. They memorialize moments and inspire movements. Our national virtual Juneteenth program hosted by a visionary network of African American museums this year aims to do all of this while uplifting the collective voice of our nation’s Black communities. For years, Black museums across the nation have stood as gathering places for heritage and hope in communities. It is within Black museums that history and destiny converge. It is there that we make sense of the painful past and envision a brighter future. By preserving the stories and traditions of our shared culture, Black museums inspire positive action in the present and help to shape the meaning of major inflection points like Juneteenth for future generations.

    After years of community celebration and advocacy, Juneteenth is finally gaining traction as more states and companies designate it an official holiday. Today, forty-seven states and the District of Columbia recognized Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday. Far fewer, however, recognize Juneteenth as an official, paid holiday for state employees. This year, NAAM supported the passage of legislation in the Washington State Legislature to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Washington, making it just the sixth state in the nation to observe Juneteenth in this way. Efforts to elevate Juneteenth to a federal holiday have been in the works for years as well, starting first with U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, D-Michigan. Introducing a bill petitioning to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in 1996, Rep. Collins said, “We must revive and preserve Juneteenth not only as the end of a painful chapter in American history, but also as a reminder of the importance of preserving the lines of communication between the powerful and powerless in our society.” The lessons of the past can be used to make America a more equitable and just place for all. By uplifting communities, teaching a more inclusive American history, and preserving cultural milestones like Juneteenth, African American museums are illuminating a path to do just that.

    See Original Post

  • June 22, 2021 9:06 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from CNN

    Ramses Escobedo probably wouldn't call himself a hero.

    But during the pandemic, he was asked to act in some heroic ways. 

    Escobedo, a bilingual Spanish-English librarian, manages a branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

    For more than a year, however, Escobedo hasn't been lending out books. Instead, he's worked with a Covid-19 contact tracer team for San Francisco's Department of Public Health.

    Covid has affected American schools, hospitals and businesses. But libraries -- which often serve people who have nowhere else to turn -- have responded in unprecedented ways. Like many of us, they've had to pivot, going from providing extensive in-person services and programming onsite in branches to quickly establishing virtual lectures and classes, and contact-less material pickup, as well as services that were strictly Covid-related like Escobedo's assignment.

    As a city worker, Escobedo's contract states he can be activated in an emergency. After his library closed in March of 2020, Escobedo was reassigned to a disaster service detail.

    "It made sense for librarians ... to take on that role because we do outreach. We are in contact with the community every day," Escobedo told CNN. "I am proud to be part of this collective effort."

    Escobedo's special assignment is part of a wider wave of libraries stepping up during the pandemic to do things that have little to do with books, but a lot to do with meeting community needs. This continues even as libraries are slowly reopening. And it reflects that they are public institutions offering services to anyone, for free. 

    But it also shows how libraries operate as a kind of first responder. When they close, people notice. "That was my other home," Chris McDermott, a retired teacher who lives alone, said of the public library in her town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. "A lifeline."

    Book bundles, curbside pickup and free Wi-Fi

    survey conducted in March of 2020 by the American Library Association found that 99 percent of the public libraries that responded were closed because of the pandemic. But the association, whose membership includes20,000 public library employees, found many libraries nonetheless added virtual programming, distributed free craft supplies, put together book bundles for families and offered curbside pickup services.

    In Hartford, Connecticut, some public libraries became Covid-19 vaccine administration sites. Librarians there also cleared obstacles to allow patrons to use outside electrical outlets to charge cell phones. In Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston, librarians installed mobile hot spots at the city's senior and veterans' centers, both of which have large parking lots, enabling many more people to log onto the Internet.

    "Anyone can go to the parking lot and connect to the Wi-Fi for free," Nicole Piermarini, the library's assistant director told CNN.

    Librarians are now armed with new information about what critical needs they fill in an emergency. At the main downtown library branch in Hartford, for example, librarians learned how important their copying and fax machines are. Many patrons needed these services to obtain documents to submit to government agencies. So the librarians reoriented the entire first floor to make those services easy to access even during the pandemic. 

    "We're the public help desk," said Bridget E. Quinn, president of the Hartford Public Library, as she gazed out her office window, which overlooks an Interstate 91 on-ramp. "When someone has a -- name the device -- and they have a question, they call us or they come in."

    It's true for libraries big and small. Piermarini at the Leominster library in Massachusetts lent out laptops during the pandemic, and had staff on-hand outside to explain how to use them to any patrons checking them out if they didn't know how they worked.

    Many libraries had to establish new remote services -- curbside pickup and online programming, for example -- virtually overnight when the March 2020 lockdown hit. And now patrons want those services to continue.

    Revamping old services, maintaining new ones

    As librarians emerge from Covid-19 closures, they are thinking about how they will maintain existing services along with the new ones. It reflects a broader struggle within the library services field, librarians say, because their mandate has done nothing but grow.

    Now as many slowly re-open to the public for the first time in over a year and resume normal operations, they are having to strike a balance between safety and access. And many must do so while lacking the economic resources to fully serve their communities. Many are facing funding shortfalls at a time when public demand for services is up.

    In some cases, libraries are re-opening even as many in the community aren't vaccinated. In Hartford, for example, while more than 50 percent of Connecticut residents are fully vaccinated, only about one-third of people in the state capital are.

    "We're re-opening by degrees," said Quinn in Hartford. "It's an interesting conundrum: how do we make the library a warm, welcoming place but still keep a distance?"

    Ever-expanding services but limited budget

    Few public libraries are flush with cash, although they got a financial lifeline from the federal government during the pandemic in the form of the federal CARES act, which through the Institute of Museum and Library Services allotted $50 million to libraries. 

    But library leaders say the pandemic money isn't sustainable. 

    "The vast majority of public libraries are underfunded to meet the needs of their community," Michelle Jeske, the City Librarian for Denver Public Library, told CNN.

    "Probably significantly underfunded," added Jeske, who is also president of the Public Library Association.

    Many libraries are funded from city or county sales and use taxes, which fell sharply during the pandemic. If local budgets have a hole, libraries are often affected.

    "If you were struggling before, because your budget was linked to a tax revenue stream, it's worse now," Jeske said of libraries. "Sales and use revenue in our city declined dramatically because people were staying at home."

    It's not just books; libraries have to have computers. A lot of them. That made the closure of most libraries so dire for patrons without access to a computer or high-speed Internet at home.

    "The community's needs keep growing and changing so we need to, too," Jeske said. "So we buy everything we used to buy -- say, 20 or 30 years ago -- and then we have also to buy computers and pay for Wi-Fi."

    The ever-increasing demand for services comes as some of the most iconic libraries in America are still in the initial phases of reopening. The New York Public Library, for example, is only open for limited in-person browsing at most branches.

    The future: Focusing on critical services and seeking partnerships

    When American's libraries do fully re-open, many in the field hope communities will remember how critical their services proved to be during the pandemic, especially to those with the greatest needs, such as people experiencing homelessness.

    "Public libraries are the most trusted institution -- certainly in government," Jeske in Denver told CNN. "We are free and open to everybody. And many libraries -- if not most -- are dedicated to serving the most vulnerable."

    It's work that many parts of government are charged with tackling, but which librarians have no choice but to do since unlike offices, schools or businesses, anyone can walk into a public library for free. 

    Librarians say going forward, they would like partnerships with public and private entities to help carry out the work libraries do. Public officials need to work with them to apply some of the lessons learned during the pandemic -- namely that if a situation arises where everyone has to do everything online, those who don't have access to a device or reliable Internet connection are often left behind without libraries. Quinn and others say it reflects a skills gap and a technology gap that librarians are uniquely positioned to help with.

    Back in San Francisco, Ramses Escobedo says he misses his library where "people from all walks of life come in" and the city's residents "love their libraries." Working with the Covid contact tracing team has been exhausting.

    But he'll never regret how he and his fellow librarians spent the pandemic.

    "We all wanted to contribute in just any way we could," he says.

    See Original Post

  • June 22, 2021 9:00 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Mental Floss

    In the photo released by the FBI, a young man appears in side profile, his teeth clenching a pipe. Agents are searching for him—he was last seen in the San Francisco Bay area in 2003. In another case, they're looking for a figure with a long nose, dimpled chin, bushy eyebrows, and tufts of curly hair, last seen in Milwaukee in 2018. A “Seeking Information” poster from the same FBI unit shows a masked man in a cowl, crowned by two bat ears, rushing forward as a cape flutters behind him.

    These are just some of the cases in the National Stolen Art File, a public database of more than 5500 missing items of cultural value, including artwork, jewelry, antiques, artifacts, and memorabilia. It's a project of the 25-person FBI team investigating what the bureau classifies as “cultural property crimes.” The idea is that if some dealer or collector comes across a suspicious item, they can easily consult the database and, if it's determined the item is stolen, help reunite it with its lawful owner. The young man with a pipe is a Norman Rockwell painting of a college student stolen from a California home in 2003; the figure with the curly hair is a Pablo Picasso etching that went missing in 2018 from a Milwaukee tea shop, where it was hung to attract potential buyers; and the cowled figure is one of five prints by New Orleans artist Nicole Charbonnet, this one appropriating a vintage Batman comic book, taken from a truck in 2019.

    “The database is really a depository for people to do their due diligence research,” Colleen Childers, the management and program analyst of the FBI's Art Crime Team, tells Mental Floss. Auction houses and museums can cross-reference “items that they are looking to buy and sell to check to see if they have been stolen.”

    The FBI began keeping files on stolen artwork in 1979 as part its oversight of interstate commerce. Some black and white photographs and picture-less descriptions from those paper files are now part of the database, which has grown to include works by Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Rembrandt; Super Bowl rings; Stradivarius violins; and 1930s comic books. Like any display of world-class museum items, there are standards for what makes a piece worthy of the National Stolen Art File: It has to be valued at $5000 or more, have some historic or artistic value, and possess some feature(s) that would make it identifiable.

    Each entry in the database has an image and some information about the item’s maker, age, and appearance. Every picture tells a piece of a story, and each story is an individual mystery. Who detached an 8-foot metal Rod of Asclepius (the snake-around-a-stick symbol) from an Illinois medical clinic? What happened to a handful of Peruvian pin-up artist Alberto Vargas’s lustiest ladies? Who stole an entire wall’s worth of 19th-century Chinese paintings of ships? Is a 2500-year-old stone statue of a woman holding a child recovered from the ruins of Ancient Carthage now in a storage unit somewhere?

    The concept of art theft may conjure an image of thieves spelunking down from a museum skylight in the dark of night, but FBI Special Agent Tim Carpenter, the supervisory agent in charge of the unit, tells Mental Floss that most thefts are less intricate. “It’s not usually The Thomas Crown Affair,” Carpenter says. “These are mostly crimes of opportunity.”

    Usually the thief takes the item because circumstances allow them to ... and then they have no idea what to do with it.

    Some items can be sold for a fraction of their actual worth for their aesthetic value, Childers says, but the market for high-end collectibles, fine art, and historic artifacts is guarded by appraisers and experts who track the history of any items before they purchase them. “Things like this don’t typically pay out well in the end,” according to Childers, “because if you are trying to sell a piece that’s stolen, everyone knows it’s stolen.” The black market for stolen art is also largely a fictional invention.

    Some items have been in the National Stolen Art File for decades, and were probably destroyed for this very reason. Others are hidden away, the secret of someone who took them on a whim and can’t sell or return them without facing charges. Sometimes, this is a lifelong burden.

    In 2017, a man wanted to have his late father's Robert Motherwell painting appraised, so he contacted The Dedalus Foundation, an organization founded by the abstract expressionist. With help from the FBI’s cultural property crimes unit, The Dedalus Foundation determined that the untitled painting, which featured two black streaks on a red surface, was one of several works that went missing in 1978. In that same year, after using The Santini Moving Company to move and store his art for two decades, Motherwell decided to hire another company. Soon after that, the artist realized dozens of his pieces had gone missing. It was the son of a former Santini employee who said the Motherwell painting had been in his father's possession for 20 years.

    “They go underground forever,” Carpenter said. “It’s not uncommon for pieces like that Motherwell piece. I could point to a dozen recent cases like that, where we will uncover a piece that has been missing for 40 or 50 years.”

    Another such case involved a Willem de Kooning painting, which was stolen from the University of Arizona in 1985. According to a police report from the time, a man distracted a guard who later found an empty space on the wall where it had been hanging. The painting, a female figure done in de Kooning’s characteristic harsh strokes, apparently adorned the bedroom wall of a quiet New Mexico couple for a few decades. After they both passed away, it ended up in a stash of their household items, which were sold to an antique store for $2000. The painting, worth at least $100,000, is now back at the university.

    Carpenter said a similar circumstance played out in the recovery of a Norman Rockwell painting of a young boy resting in the sun, which had been taken from a New Jersey home during a 1976 robbery. The painting came into the possession of an antiques dealer in 2017, and he helped return it to the heirs of its rightful owners. No arrests were made.

    TO DISPLAY OR DISCARD

    Michael Goforth, co-owner of DeLind Fine Art Appraisers and steward of the Picasso etching stolen in Milwaukee, has an idea of how the theft played out. The piece, titled Torero, hung in an upscale tea shop whose proprietors allow Goforth to display art, relatively unguarded, for a few weeks.

    “They probably saw it once, got a look at the signature and then came back and grabbed it,” Goforth said. At 20-by-15 inches, it would fit beneath a coat. (Because of his name recognition, prolific output, and the shoplift-ready size of many of his works, there are a lot of stolen Picassos out there, including 34 listed in the National Stolen Art File alone.)

    “I just came back from lunch one day and it was gone,” Goforth tells Mental Floss. He thought perhaps his partner had allowed a potential buyer to borrow it to see how it would look in a home collection, a rather common practice. “I asked my partner, ‘Is the Picasso out on loan?’ and he said no, and we both turned white.”

    DeLind was attempting to sell the piece on behalf of a private collector, who was hoping to receive between $30,000 and $50,000 for it.

    The thief, like many before them, will probably find there’s no place to sell a Picasso that won’t contact the authorities when they realize it's stolen. “I just hope they don’t destroy it,” Goforth says. “It was a really lovely piece.”

    Nicole Charbonnet, whose Batman print was stolen along with four others, said the pieces were being shipped back to her after they were displayed briefly in a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At least one work by another artist was in the same shipment. She said the thieves ransacked the shipping company’s truck somewhere near Dallas.

    “I was very upset,” Charbonnet says. “They don’t have any particular sentimental value; I work all the time and trade art for money.”

    Months after the theft, Arthur Roger, owner of the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans, received a call from a blocked number. The person on the other end inquired if he would buy a few Nicole Charbonnets. Roger said one of the prints may have had a label with the name of his gallery on it because he had displayed them there. They asked a lot of questions. “I think that they were looking for information,” Roger says. “Who would buy them and for how much?” Roger immediately contacted Charbonnet and the FBI.

    Charbonnet said the thieves also called the gallery in Santa Fe where the works had been displayed. Failing to sell the works and apparently possessing some conscience, they arranged to leave the cache of art somewhere in the Dallas area for pickup. (The gallery did not return calls for this story; and an FBI spokesperson said they could not comment on the case.) Charbonnet said she was told that when a shipping company hired by the gallery went to pick up the art, it was not there.

    Charbonnet, who describes herself as “a midlevel artist,” hoped the pieces would fetch $10,000 each. “I can sell my works in galleries and at shows,” she said, “but there is not a big secondary market for it.”

    She was hoping they would be someone’s pleasure to display. Now they’re someone’s burden to discard.

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  • June 22, 2021 8:57 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Security Management Magazine

    The events of the past year have redefined our normal by transforming how we live and work. As a result, security professionals are facing unexpected new challenges.

    The industry is experiencing an insatiable appetite for surveillance storage and improved cybersecurity to limit critical system and data access, but pandemic-reduced budgets are forcing security and IT teams to do more with less by maximizing efficiency and cost effectiveness. In a recent TechRepublic poll, 62% of respondents indicated tighter 2021 IT budgets, with a priority shift to work-from-home and network security technologies.

    Several factors have also changed industry requirements during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic:

    Facilities impact. Relocating workers to home offices generated empty facilities with limited access, creating a management challenge for security and IT teams. Remote video monitoring and analytics became an essential tool for securing understaffed sites, powered by remote system access and management capabilities.

    Civil unrest. Recent protests and violence demonstrated how video data can be utilized for real-time incident management and post-incident investigations. Citywide surveillance video provides real-time situational awareness to enable organizations to effectively manage protest-type incidents as they evolve, and bodycam video evidence is utilized daily in investigations to protect both law enforcement and citizens. With higher camera counts, better resolution, and longer retention periods, these systems generate massive video storage requirements. Their mission-critical nature often dictates high availability and enhanced data protection to minimize downtime and video loss.

    Cybersecurity breaches. Recent high-profile breaches of network monitoring and video surveillance systems reinforced the need for stronger cybersecurity protection. The SolarWinds hack exposed thousands of customers with unauthorized access to critical systems, and in a separate incident, hackers gained access to live and recorded video from over 150,000 surveillance cameras inside hospitals, companies, police departments, prisons, and schools. Organizations must implement policies and procedures to protect against intrusions and develop ransomware protection strategies that include risk assessments, backup infrastructure updates, and emergency storage recovery plans.

    Fortunately, newer, proven technologies can help security teams address emerging challenges by maximizing efficiency, protection, and cost effectiveness:

    Consolidation. New network video recorders (NVRs) combine nearly 1PB of storage with the necessary processing power and ingest capabilities to match. Consolidated systems reduce hardware and management costs associated with complex compute and storage environments.

    Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). HCI and software-defined storage eliminate the need for standalone servers by allowing multiple applications and storage to run on the same infrastructure. In mission-critical environments, HCI provides high resiliency with application failover and enhanced data protection. This resiliency protects camera recording, recorded video, and immediate access to recorded video against catastrophic hardware failure -- without the cost and complexity of a fully redundant infrastructure.

    Software-defined object storage. Object storage is a relatively new, cost-effective approach to storing large amounts of unstructured data like video. Storage “objects” combine the data, metadata, and a unique identifier to eliminate the scalability and complexity challenges associated with hierarchical file systems. Adoption for video solutions has been slow due to different storage protocol requirements, but storage vendors have overcome those challenges and can now deliver surveillance-ready solutions. Object storage can also deliver cost-effective geographic resiliency to protect against catastrophic site failures for high-risk environments.

    Tiered storage. Surveillance video traditionally utilizes a single storage tier, but requirements for increased retention times and redundant video copies are changing that. Many video management systems (VMS) create distinct archive tiers, and some storage providers offer automated tiering software -- enabling archive tiers on multiple storage media, including cost-effective tape with user-transparent retrieval functionality.

    Ransomware prevention. Applying data management best practices to surveillance storage systems can safeguard video from ransomware threats. By protecting critical data ahead of time—whether using the 3-2-1-1 backup method (three copies of critical data, stored on two different mediums, with one copy offline and one copy offsite) or storing data in a secure private cloud—organizations can reduce the impact of ransomware on their operations.

    Health monitoring and remote management. Deploying remote system management and proactive system health diagnostic tools prevents costly outages and reduces system management costs. Proactive diagnostic tools identify potential issues before they become critical, and technicians can apply the fix using remote management tools, eliminating the need for costly dispatches to access-restricted facilities. 

    Security teams face more challenges than ever before, but these technology advancements can help them meet the demanding requirements created by today’s new normal.

    See Original Post

  • June 22, 2021 8:52 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Artnet News

    During World War II, a group of American and British curators, art historians, librarians, architects, and artists were tasked with the daunting mission of recovering artworks looted by the Nazis in real-time. This group (which included women, it should be noted) came to be known as the Monuments Men. Their unique mission, and their daring, is most likely familiar from George Clooney’s 2014 movie of the same name. But well before and after their stories came to the silver screen a group of scholars and writers had been devoted to preserving and promoting this unique legacy, known as the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art (MMF). A best-selling book penned by MMF founder Robert M. Edsel was the basis of the movie, in fact.

    While the MMF has garnered the most attention for its continuing restitution work, the foundation has expanded the mission in a new direction with the recent launch of the Monuments Men and Women Museum Network. Rather than focusing squarely on wartime efforts, this organization of museums aims to showcase the cultural contributions of these men and women well before and after World War II, and how they were pivotal to returning works to their rightful museums as well as contributing to scholarship. Currently, twenty leading institutions in the US, UK, Germany, and New Zealand have joined the network, including the Courtauld Gallery, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Berlin State Museums—with the list growing steadily.

    Anna Bottinelli, president of MMF, spearheaded the network. “The success of our efforts to honor the Monuments Men and Women has, until now, been focused on their wartime service,” noted Bottinelli. “The creation of the Monuments Men and Women Museum Network will, for the first time, bring much-deserved visibility to their immense contribution to museums and cultural life in the United States and elsewhere, both before and after the war.” 

    Member institutions have pledged either free and reduced admission or store discounts to those belonging to the Foundation’s membership program —and are sharing their unique connection to the Monuments Men and Women on social media. Bottinelli underscores that the coordinated effort to share each museum’s connection with the heroes of yesteryear is “part of the educational component of the Foundation’s mission” — a mission focused on restitution, education, and preservation. 

    ‘[The Foundation’s] initiative to strengthen the ties between the MMF and institutions that the Monuments Men and Women helped build into what they are today is remarkable” noted Michael Eissenhauer, director-general of the Berlin State Museums. 

    As part of the official launch of the Museum Network, the Foundation has been sharing each museum’s important ties to the “heroes of civilization” through social media campaigns, newsletters, and other channels, encouraging museums and institutions to scour their records, archives, and collections for links to the Monuments Men and Women. The Museum Network says it is likely that hundreds of works displayed in public institutions have unrealized connections to WWII —and that many former staff members participated in the recovery of looted art. 

    See Original Post

  • June 09, 2021 11:26 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    IFCPP is honored to welcome our newest member to the Foundation's esteemed Board of Advisors. Most of our members will recognize Armando Leon from the outstanding conference sessions, certification courses, and webinars that he has provided over the last couple of years. Welcome aboard Armando - we can't thank you enough for all that you do for IFCPP, and for the cultural property protection community worldwide!

    With over 20 years of Military, Law Enforcement and Security experience, Armando Leon serves as the Director of Protective Services for The Museum of the Bible. Armando oversees the overall security and protection of the Museum in Washington DC, all artifacts stored in an off-site location and any exhibits traveling worldwide.  Armando is also the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Armite International Security Solutions, a strategic advisement company in the Washington, DC Metro Area.

    Prior to this position, Armando worked at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for many years. Starting off as an Officer on the Security Contract, Armando rose through the ranks attaining the position of Assistant Project Manager, responsible for coordinating and implementing all of the Contract Security Operations for the Museum.

    Before moving to the D.C. area, Armando lived in Miami, Florida and served as a Police Officer in Miami-Dade County. Throughout his time as a Police Officer, Armando worked with several proactive units, and also patrolled some of the worst neighborhoods in the county. 

    Armando has also served, and continues to serve in the United States Army. His record includes active duty service with the 3rd Infantry Division during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he currently serves with the District of Columbia National Guard, where he holds the position of Operations NCO in a Military Police Battalion.

    Armando is a current member of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP) and ASIS International.   Armando is a Certified Institutional Protection Specialist, a Certified Institutional Protection Manager II with the IFCPP as well as a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) with ASIS International.

    Armando has an Associate Degree from Northern Virginia Community College, a Bachelor of Arts in History from George Mason University and is currently working on a Master of Business Administration from American Military University.

  • June 09, 2021 11:21 AM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Guardian

    A year ago, Laura Pye would have said that she had been a champion of diversity throughout her career. And then George Floyd’s murder sparked a movement that took hold in the UK on an unprecedented scale.

    “I would have said that I was anti-racist before, but I never understood the scale of racism and what that looks like on a daily basis in some parts of our society until the last 12 months,” she said.

    Pye is the director of National Museums Liverpool (NML), a collection of seven museums and galleries in the city. One of those is the International Slavery Museum (ISM), which opened in 2007. As demonstrations spread last summer and the statue of the slaver Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol, the conversation in Britain turned to the lasting impact of the slave trade.

    ISM was perfectly placed to contribute. “Liverpool is absolutely a city that is built on transatlantic slavery. You see in our architecture, you see it in our street names, you see it everywhere you look,” said Pye, which meant there was a “maturity” to the discussion compared with some areas of the UK.

    ISM describes itself as a “campaigning museum” that works to end contemporary forms of slavery and is Britain’s only museum where you can officially report hate crime. According to Pye, the aims of ISM include documenting the story of Africa before slavery, “but also to talk about the legacy of transatlantic slavery for the UK – and one of those legacies is institutional racism”.

    The museum found itself deluged with press requests, and NML quickly released a statement in solidarity with black communities in Minneapolis and around the world. As in many workplaces, the focus also turned inwards. Only 5% of NML’s 600 or so employees are black, Asian or an ethnic minority. In a city with one of Britain’s oldest black communities, only 0.5% of the museum employees identify as black, African, Caribbean or Black British.

    Jennifer Abrahim, a 32-year-old administrative co-ordinator for the Museum of Liverpool, said she found the days following Floyd’s death “quite traumatic”. “People were just relentlessly sharing the footage [of the killing], so it was absolutely everywhere.”

    For Abrahim, who is half-Iraqi, the conversations had brought back memories of racism she had faced growing up in Liverpool, including being pelted with objects from a car and having Islamophobic abuse shouted at her following the 7/7 bombings.

    In the days that followed, she was due to take minutes at a regional arts meeting, where “the majority of the CEOs across the consortium are white” and knew that a response to BLM would be discussed. She recalls feeling “anxious as to how it was going to be spoken about”.

    Sahar Beyad, who is the only person of colour on NML’s PR and communications team, also struggled. She said: “It was everywhere and you just couldn’t switch off.” Falling during the height of lockdown in the UK, where people of colour had died in disproportionate numbers, Beyad found continuing with daily meetings while keeping her “emotions in check” almost unbearable.

    “A number of my colleagues, probably for the first time, saw a very emotional side to me,” she said.

    Along with others in the sector, NML reflected on the diversity of its collections and the stories it was telling through its exhibitions. The Museum of Liverpool began a project to collect objects telling the story of the city-wide BLM protests, the Walker Art Gallery pledged to become more transparent about the links between the collections and the slavery and panels were put up advertising the group’s commitment to the BLM movement. 

    “We’ve been quite good at public programming and stuff that is project-based,” said Pye, who moved back to her home city in 2018 to take up the role. But “our workforce diversity was then, and still is not, representative of the communities in which we live”.

    Pye said it was great to work to make the museums and galleries more representative, “but actually if our workforce isn’t representative, then really how diverse are we as an organisation?”

    NML established an anti-racism steering group, which included senior managers. Many of the agenda items were not new – they had had an external advisory group of community members for years, but the BLM movement gave it renewed vigour. Also invited were the BAME staff group, co-founded by Dr Richard Benjamin, ISM’s director. Fifteen years after it was established, there are fewer than 10 of them who meet regularly. One staffer said many of the employees of colour work in more insecure roles such as cleaning or catering, and feel unable to attend meetings around their shift patterns.

    The group would regularly meet to discuss workplaces issues, to “check in” with one another and “act as a sounding board” for ideas, Beyad said, or a “safe space” as Abrahim put it. As well as discussions one on one with current staff, Pye sought out former employees of colour. This was “a whole load harder, but also a whole load more useful”, said Pye.

    NML have set themselves a target of improving staff representation from ethnic minorities to 14% by 2030 – more in line with an estimate of the city’s demographics. However, “museums are the least diverse part of the cultural sector”, Pye said. A report from the Arts Council in 2019 found that 5% of staff in major museums in England were black, Asian or an ethnic minority. “It’s a sector-wide issue”, agrees Benjamin, but says there is also a lack of diversity among relevant courses within higher education.

    Another factor is attracting people of colour to apply for jobs in the first place. NML has changed its recruitment processes in an attempt to improve accessibility, including where they advertise and holding open sessions to answer questions.

    The subject matter may be off-putting as well. Pye said she had heard from ex-staffers the difficulties of dealing with subject matters such as the transatlantic slave trade “when it’s really quite raw for you as an individual, it is your heritage that you’re talking about, and you’re constantly having to … try to find a way of presenting it as we are trying to do [in the museums]”.

    Benjamin can relate. “British Guyana, and Demerara, where my dad’s from – that’s a big narrative in the museum.” 

    Benjamin says he tells staff members to “never take the human element out of it, and never try to hide or contain your emotions”, but acknowledges that he has dealt with it in his own way, describing himself as a “stoic Yorkshireman”.

    “Sometimes I maybe need to take a bit of time out because it is emotionally draining.”

    While the past 12 months have been difficult for many staff members, Beyad says she has been encouraged by the “momentum”. As a member of Museum Detox, a network for people of colour who work in museums and galleries, she says she feels “lucky” to have the support from the staff group, as well as a director who is straightforwardly determined to make change. 

    “I know there are many other organisations within the art world who haven’t had that,” she said.

    A year on, does Pye feel more or less hopeful that NML can make the necessary change? About the same, she says. She is “more realistic now. I think I understand the scale of the challenge more than I did 12 months ago.”

    See Original Post

  
 

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