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  • November 03, 2020 2:20 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from CNN

    The US reported 99,321 new Covid-19 cases on Friday -- the highest single day number of cases recorded for any country. The United States' top five records in daily cases all occurred within eight days, and an expert says he worries the upward trend will push hospitals past capacity.

    Friday's number surpassed the previous daily record held by India, which reported 97,894 coronavirus cases in a single day on September 17, according to India's health ministry. 

    As of Saturday evening, there have been 71,931 new Covid-19 cases across the US, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 659 deaths were also reported.

    The total number of Covid-19 cases in the US reached at least 9.1 million and the nation's death toll from the pandemic topped 230,000 on Saturday.

    "The 100,000 cases yesterday two weeks from now will start to translate into massive numbers of deaths," Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN Saturday. "So we're going to see not just cases continue to escalate but we're going to see perhaps 2,000 deaths per day two or three weeks from now."

    Iowa on Friday reported its highest single day increase of new cases. That means 31 states have had at least one record high day of new cases in October, Johns Hopkins data show.

    At least 47,374 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals on Saturday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That's up 65.6% from a three-month low of 28,608 on September 20, and it's the highest total since mid-August.

    This month, hospitalizations decreased in Georgia and Hawaii while California's hospitalizations held steady. Every other state and the District of Columbia saw increases, the Covid Tracking Project showed. 

    Former health official warns of new lockdowns

    Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said Saturday the US has a narrow window of time before more drastic measures like mandatory lockdowns will have to be considered.

    "We are seeing Covid-19 hotspots raging all over the country and right now we have an opportunity to implement targeted measures like universal mask wearing, like making sure that high risk businesses like bars in certain areas are shut down, like instructing the public that we should be avoiding social gatherings of extended family and friends," she told CNN. 

    "But if we don't do these things now, we're going to be overwhelming our health systems and then a lock down may be necessary." 

    In Florida, health officials reported 2,331 new cases on Saturday -- the 12th consecutive day with over 2,000 cases, according to a CNN tally. 

    To date, Florida has recorded 802,547 coronavirus cases, 16,761 resident deaths and 208 non-resident deaths, according to state health department data. 

    Pennsylvania on Saturday reported 2,510 new cases, according to a health department statement. Pennsylvania has 208,207 cases and 8,812 deaths, health officials said.

    Daily increases in the state along with Michigan and Wisconsin were at the highest level since the start of the pandemic, health officials in those states said.

    In El Paso, Texas, where hospitals are struggling to meet the demand of Covid-19 patients, officials are preparing to add a third mobile morgue unit in anticipation of a spike in deaths.

    "If that doesn't put our situation into perspective I don't know what will," County Judge Ricardo Samaniego wrote on Facebook. 

    As of Saturday morning, El Paso had reported 1,643 new cases and four new deaths, bringing the total death toll to 599, according to the City/County of El Paso Covid-19 website. There were more than 16,837 active cases in the community.

    Hospitals could become overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), told CNN's Anderson Cooper Friday. 

    Fourteen states and one US territory reported record high hospitalizations Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The project reported 46,688 hospitalizations. On October 1, the nation had 30,077.

    Those states and territories are: Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Guam.

    Wisconsin health officials on Saturday reported record high 5,278 new case, bringing the state total to 225,370. There were 59 new virus-related deaths. 

    University of Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez told ESPN's College GameDay on Saturday that 22 people in the school's football program -- 12 student-athletes and 10 staff members -- had tested positive for Covid-19.

    The school will decide Tuesday whether the Badgers can play their next scheduled game on November 7 at home against Purdue, Alvarez said.

    The number of hospitalizations is the best measure of how the nation is faring in the coronavirus pandemic, Murray said. "They are a leading indicator ahead of deaths."

    But Murray said the US public is not getting the data it needs to understand which hospitals will be most severely under stress going forward and called on the government to release more information.

    Murray and his colleagues at IHME are responsible for an influential coronavirus model, which most recently projected 399,000 coronavirus deaths in the US by February 1.

    "The fall/winter surge should lead to a daily death toll that is approximately three times higher than now by mid-January," the IHME said in its latest forecast.

    New York requires most travelers to get negative test 

    With cases surging throughout the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that most travelers must now get Covid-19 tests before and after arrival in the state.

    The new policy replaces a previous advisory list of states with rising case counts from which travelers were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York, the governor said during a call with the media.

    Most travelers to New York State will be required to obtain a negative Covid-19 test three days prior to setting out on their trip to the state, Cuomo said.

    Reiner, a CNN medical analyst, said Friday that the increase in cases was "terrifying" and the worst was yet to come.

    "In a day or two, we'll top, six digits for cases in one day. We will see over 100,000 cases in one day. Now, that by itself sounds bad, but two weeks after that, you know, we'll start seeing 2,000 people a day dying in this country," he said. 

    Reiner said the worst-case scenario could be losing 2,000 to 2,500 patients a day but that Americans had the power to contain the virus.

    "We need to mask up and in some places, we need to think about smart closures," he said.

    "Europe is closing all over -- it's the smart thing to do when the virus gets out of control. That's how we got control with the first wave. so, here's the choice for the country: If you don't want to close, then mask up. But we can't have it both ways. We can't be no mask and no closing. So -- if closing is offensive -- let's mask up. 

    Wen said Friday that testing needs to be stepped up.

    "Today, we now have one person being diagnosed (with the) coronavirus every second," she said. "We have one American dying of (the) coronavirus every two minutes, and that number is increasing."

    Wen, an emergency medicine physician, told CNN she is most concerned about the rate of test positivity. In some states, she said one in two people being tested are positive.

    "That means that we're not doing nearly enough testing, and that every person who tests positive is a canary in a coal mine," she said. "There are almost certainly to be many more, dozens of other cases, that we're not detecting, and that escalation is going to increase in the weeks to come."

    See Original Post

  • November 03, 2020 2:13 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Blooloop

    The National WWII Museum is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. It tells the story of the American experience of WWII – the reasons behind it, how it was fought, and what it means today.

    Stephen Watson has worked at the National WWII Museum in a variety of positions since 2002, and in 2017 he took on the role of President and CEO. He spoke to blooloop about his experience at the museum and the importance of being nimble and adaptive in the face of a crisis.

    Watson has always had a strong interest in history, he says: “It was always something that I was attracted to in school. Then, as a teenager, I had the opportunity to go to Normandy with my high school. It made a big impression on me, as a 15-year-old, to visit those sites and to go to the cemeteries. The experience was one of those moments that really stuck with me through my adult life.

    “Plus, I had a grandfather that served in World War II. I grew up in Scotland and my grandfather served in the Royal Air Force. It was such an important time in his life. So, like many people that are drawn specifically to the National WWII Museum, there’s a personal connection for me.”

    Stephen Watson and the National WWII Museum

    As well as this passion for history, Stephen Watson says he has always been drawn to the non-profit sector. So, when the chance to work at the National WWII Museum came about, he jumped at it.

    “I started my career as a fundraiser,” he says. “I was working for National Public Radio, here in New Orleans in the late 90s. At that time, the museum was not open, but it was approaching opening day – under its original name of the National D-Day Museum. And it was one of the most exciting and biggest things that had happened in the city in a generation.”

    “I said, this is a place that I want to go work. I want to be a part of the mission and a part of the work that they’re doing to bring the story to a broader public. And I was fortunate, 18 years ago, to start here at the museum.”

    A unique museum

    Talking a little more about what makes the National WWII Museum special, Stephen Watson says that having a clear central vision is key.

    “Our mission is to tell the story of WWII through the lens of the American experience. For instance, why did we get into the war in the first place? How did we go about winning it? And what does that mean to us today?

    “You could make a really compelling case that WWII is one of, if not the most, important event in human history. Over 65 million people lost their lives. It was a transformative time in the world. It was a fight for freedom and democracy, and it’s a really big and important story.”

    “In addition to this, a lot of people have a personal connection to it. So here at the National WWII Museum, we really focus on the significance of our mission and the stories that we’re telling. I think that is what people are drawn to here. For example, how we use personal testimony, how we use oral history to tell the story. We tell it through the lens of the individuals that were there and who fought and their experiences.

    “Of course, we have tanks and aeroplanes and artefacts and multiple layers of interpretation. But when you come to the museum you don’t only leave with an understanding of the big picture. You leave with a very detailed and compelling understanding of the personal experiences.”

    Using technology to tell an immersive story

    In order to make this connection with visitors, the National WWII Museum uses a variety of different technologies and design concept to tell an immersive story.

    “We’ve tried to build this as a museum that will be here for 1000 years,” says Watson. “So, every decision that we’ve made, we’ve tried to really do it to the very best of our ability. Whether it’s exhibition design, research, media production, scenic design, lighting. And of course, the architecture of the buildings and the concept for the campus.”

    “During the visit, we really immerse guests in the types of environments that our troops were experiencing. The museum uses technology to really engage people in a way that is disruptive, unexpected and multi-layered. For instance, we have 4D experiences and we use projection creatively.

    “One of the compelling experiences here is that when you come to the museum and you purchase a ticket, you are given what we call a dog tag, which has an RFID chip. As you begin your visit to the museum, you actually get on a train, in the same way as many of these men and women began their journey to war.

    “When you scan your dog tag, you are introduced to a real person and you follow them and their journey through the war as you go through our exhibits.

    “We use all of the tools that are available to us now in our field to really engage with visitors in a dramatic way.”

    The National WWII Museum and Hurricane Katrina

    Over the years, the National WWII Museum has weathered several crises, most notably Hurricane Katrina which devasted the city of New Orleans in 2005.

    “It’s hard to believe that we just passed the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” says Stephen Watson. It was very tough. Throughout the city and the region, there was a significant loss of life, as well as massive property destruction on a scale that it’s really hard to describe unless you saw it. It was beyond anything that you can really comprehend unless you see it yourself.”

    “Hurricane Katrina impacted our staff, our volunteers, our donors, our stakeholders, in some fairly dramatic ways. The majority of us lost our homes. And, of course, in the middle of all of this, you have to make the tough decisions and cut back on staff. It was a very tough experience.

    “We were closed for several months. Then it was five years before we got back to our pre-Katrina visitor numbers. It was a long and tough road back to recovery.

    “But a couple of things did come out of it. Of course, you never want to go through something like Katrina to get to this point, but when you’re faced with a real crisis like this you have to focus on your survival and think about what you can do to move forward.”

    Adapting to survive

    Two things occurred as a result of the crisis, says Watson.

    “One was that we realised, from an economic perspective, we had to diversify our revenue sources. We could not just be solely dependent on people walking through our doors. We had to think differently about an economic model and financial resilience. As a result, we began to think about what can we do beyond visitation revenue, retail and food & beverage.

    “For example, we ramped up our efforts to build an overseas travel programme. Today, we operate as many as 50 different programmes a year overseas. Last year was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and we took almost 1000 guests and 30 veterans back to Normandy.”

    “Programmes like this fullfil our mission from an education standpoint as well as providing operating revenue to our budget. And it’s also a great way to make connections and find friends that can help the museum in other ways.

    “In the wake of Katrina, we were able to economically create some diversity, so that our revenues are not as dependent on people walking through the doors. That helped us with our recovery from that crisis, definitely.”

    Distance learning at the National WWII Museum

    “The second thing was a focus on distance learning,” says Stephen Watson. “It seems normal now, but 15 years ago distance learning and outreach were in their infancy compared to where they are now.

    “When you are impacted by an event like Katrina and you have no visitors, you begin to think about relevance – how do you fullfil your mission and continue to connect with people?

    “It led us to a place where we were one of the early adopters in terms of distance learning, particularly in middle and high schools. The crisis helped us think about outreach, digital content and the digitization of our collections. We looked at the curriculum, learning materials, teacher training.”

    “As a result, we were able to accelerate the programmes and the initiatives within our education programmes to touch multiple audiences outside of our region. And that’s a huge part of the work that we do right now.

    “This is also something that has been relevant as we’ve gone through the pandemic. So, while Katrina was very difficult in terms of the economics and the tough decisions, it has in some ways made us stronger. It helped us to think a little more broadly about how to fullfil our mission.”

    Weathering a new storm

    The National WWII Museum, like many other cultural organisations across the globe, was forced to close to help stop the spread of COVID-19. It has since reopened to the public with several extra health and safety procedures in place.

    In terms of the impact of this closure and the resulting challenges, Watson says that the museum’s experience with overcoming Katrina was useful.

    “Looking at outreach and distance learning part, we were really well-positioned due to that earlier work.”

    “Over the past few years, we have been in the midst of a long expansion plan, building our campus. And we’re almost finished. One of the new pavilions that we opened last fall is the Hall of Democracy which houses two entities that we created at the museum a couple of years ago. One is the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. The other is the WWII Media and Education Centre.

    “These new centres represent two things. One is a commitment to deepening our content expertise. And the other is doubling down on a lot of the work that we had done with media production. We are deepening our bench of folks that can produce content. For instance, instructional designers, distance learning experts, media producers and documentary producers.

    “So, we have this beautiful new building, but more importantly, we have the talent and the expertise to become a much more significant content producer.”

    Supporting learners

    “During the pandemic, we quickly, like many museums, shifted our focus to what can we do through digital content production,” says Stephen Watson. “We wanted to support students and teachers who were also going through a massive transition. The museum provides curriculum materials and webinars. We also produce live panel discussions and original articles.”

    “The 75th anniversary of the end of the war is approaching so we really made that a big focus of our digital content. We had podcasts that we launched, and then we work with partners.

    “This has been something we’re very proud of in the last six months, how we’ve been able to really grow our digital audiences, again, through this very difficult situation.”

    The National WWII Museum and COVID-19

    “Economically, it’s similar to Katrina,” says Watson on the pandemic. “It’s devastating, in a way. We have built the museum over the last 15 years into a much larger and more significant organisation than we were when Hurricane Katrina struck.

    “Between our hotel and conference centre, and our museum staff and our food & beverage partners we had around 600 people working on campus.

    “Then we had the closure, like just about every museum in the world, and we had layoffs. We also know that we’re going to have a significant recovery phase. We are predominantly a tourist-driven museum. The majority of our visitors come from outside the state of Louisiana.”

    “What has made COVID especially difficult is the fact that some of the things that we did to diversify are really not helpful in this situation. For instance, our overseas travel programmes are just as impacted now as people visiting the museum.

    “But we’re all making the best of this tough situation and doing what we need to do, to get through this. And there will be better days ahead. We are all hopeful that in the next few months, there’ll be some good news and we can get on a more solid path to recovery.”

    The wider impact of the pandemic

    When asked about the wider impact of the pandemic on the museum sector across the US, Stephen Watson says:

    “I think it’s hard to know right now. But when you’re in the middle of something, it often feels worse than maybe it will be. That’s my hope.

    “There have been and there will continue to be closures. My own belief is that most will emerge. Some of the safety measures and protocols that museums have put in place will likely become permanent. For instance, with relation to cleaning and ticketing, and the ways that we handle our food and beverage operations.”

    “Plus, there will be some impacts on exhibition design, as it relates to how people interact with exhibits and especially tactile and high touch.

    “Financial resiliency is going to become more important, certainly. We’ve all planned for various forms of crises and emergencies. But this is probably one that none of us ever prepared for. I’m sure there will be things that the sector will think about as a result that will ultimately help us to become stronger.

    “Ultimately, I think we will we will get back to something closer to normal than what we’re all dealing with right now. I’m optimistic that the impacts on the sector won’t be as negative as maybe we had feared a month or two ago.”

    Welcoming guests back to the National WWII Museum

    The National WWII Museum opened its doors once more in May 2020. Stephen Watson explains some of the ways that the museum is ensuring it keeps guests safe in the wake of the pandemic:

    “We were one of the first museums to reopen and I had the opportunity to serve on the governor of Louisiana’s recovery Task Force representing museums and cultural attractions.

    “Our belief at that time, and this has since played out, was that museums are probably better positioned than most to open safely. Museums have ticketing systems, they have security teams, they have large open spaces. Often they have custodial and cleaning crews.”

    “So, we felt like we had all of the tools and facilities to open safely. We put together plans in late March and early April to convince our elected leaders that museums, with restrictions, should be able to open. And we reopened on Memorial Day, 25 May 2020.

    “We have enhanced cleaning and extensive signage throughout our campus, from the moment you park your car. This emphasises our hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

    “The museum also implemented timed ticketing, which is something that we did not have prior to this. We worked with our ticketing vendor to pivot and were ready on opening day to be able to do timed ticketing, which is important for contact tracing. It’s also important for capacity management and spreading out visitors.”

    Museum visits in a post-COVID world

    Like many other museums, many of the exhibits at the National WWII Museum are hands-on. Watson talks about one simple change that the museum has made in order that allows visitors to use these safely:

    “We’ve modified some of our interactives. So, we now give our visitors a little stylus so that they can actually use the interactive without touching it.”

    “There are other health and safety regulations in place for the time being too. For instance, we’re not admitting groups and there are no public programmes. We’ve adapted our food & beverage provision. Plus there are now plexiglass screens in place to provide safety for our guests and our staff. We have also done as much as we can in terms of touchless transactions.

    “Something that is equally as important as the front of house operations is making it safe for the staff. We have to take into account how people work and what measures will ensure that staff, these people who deliver a great experience for our guests, feel like they are safe.

    “One of the things that we really tried to emphasise at the opening was ‘know before you go’, making sure that our guidelines are really clear and that our visitors understand before they arrive at our front door. For example, there are a few areas of the museum that are not open just because they’re really not conducive to social distancing.”

    The future of the National WWII Museum

    Now it is able to welcome visitors once again, Stephen Watson is excited about some of the plans and upcoming events that are in the pipeline.

    “In the middle of all of this, one of the exciting things that is going on here right now is we have one last major permanent exhibition pavilion to be created as part of our capital expansion.

    “We have raised the money to fund that and as I sit here today we are in the process of beginning construction on our final pavilion, the Liberation Pavilion. This really concludes the story of the war, in terms of how we tell it through our permanent galleries.”

    The Liberation Pavilion 

    “It picks up the story really near the end of the war, telling the story of the Holocaust and where the world was in 1945,” says Stephen Watson. “We will explore things like the cost of the victory and look at the post-war period, through the lens of what happened in the United States domestically as well as how the world changed after the war.”

    “That’s everything from the war crimes trials and the Marshall Plan to the G.I. Bill, which transformed education in the United States. We will look at the advances in technology, the International Declaration of Human Rights and the formation of the UN. Plus, the social change that took place in the United States, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement. WWII had a direct role in those.

    “Ultimately, we will be reflecting on what we were fighting for, which is, of course, freedom and democracy. We are beginning construction on the pavilion right now and we’ll open it in 2022.”

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 4:18 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from AAM

    Cassandra Clement was always on the lookout. A self-described “stalker” of quiet places to sit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG), she always took note of benches tucked away in more secluded areas, or any nook or cove that would make a “good place to chill” with her son Troy, who has a genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome. For the Clements, like many families with developmental disabilities, the zoo was both a place of refuge from the daily challenges of living with a disability and a source of anxiety. Visitors with sensory sensitivities can be overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of a zoo, and others may struggle to understand social expectations in public places.

    In support of the zoo’s mission to “inspire every visitor with wildlife every day,” CZBG embarked on an initiative in 2017 to become more accessible and inclusive, for individuals with developmental disabilities, low socioeconomic status, English as a second language, and terminal illnesses that prevent them from visiting the zoo. The initiative, Zoo Access for All, was supported by a four-year “Community Anchors” grant from the Institute of Museums & Library Services (IMLS) for the work with developmental disabilities, which this article focuses on.

    As the grant cycle reaches the end of year three, Rhiannon Hoeweler, the program’s founder and the zoo’s Vice President of Visitor Experience, Strategy & FUN!, reflects on what made the project a community success.

    “We offer on-site resources like sensory bags, social narratives, and a calming room,” Hoeweler says. “But the most impactful components to this program are the connections we made from the beginning with local Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s (CCHMC) LEND Program, and the creation of a Family Advisory Council to guide the work.” These trusting relationships between the CZBG and its community partners were the key to developing a program responsive to the specific needs of the Cincinnati community.

    Only two city blocks from CZBG sits one of the leading children’s hospitals in the country, whose Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program trains professionals to support the disability community in Cincinnati. Since the beginning of the Zoo Access for All program, LEND’s Program Director, Dr. Jen Smith, has collaborated with CZBG to train zoo employees and identify priority areas to increase accessibility.

    Over four hundred CZBG employees have gone through the unique training with Dr. Smith, learning some of the types of developmental disabilities they may encounter at the zoo, how they can support those with developmental disabilities, and how they can assist families when issues arise. One of the main purposes of the training is to make interacting with families with developmental disabilities less intimidating. Employees can be role models and advocates, and the training helps them feel better prepared to make every visitor’s experience at CZBG magical.

    As a local expert on the subject, Dr. Smith’s involvement in the program helps families trust in the changes being made. Dr. Smith has been working with many other cultural institutions across the greater Cincinnati region, providing education and resources to places like the Newport Aquarium, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Reds, and even the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Together, these organizations along with many others have created the Greater Cincinnati Access and Inclusion Network, to share ideas, resources, and collaborate to create a more inclusive region.

    Dr. Smith says, “When these organizations partner together, there’s less heavy lifting to create a program from scratch. They can learn what’s working at other organizations and ask questions and having similar resources at similar organizations helps our families know what to expect. There’s also great local pride in saying to a visitor, ‘If you liked the resources at the zoo, you’ll love the events at the museum this weekend!’”

    As valuable as medical expertise is, no one knows the challenges of a zoo visit for the neurodiverse better than our member families with developmental disabilities, so Dr. Smith and CZBG invited twenty families representing different disabilities, age groups, and socioeconomic statuses to serve as part of the Zoo’s Access for All Family Advisory Council. These families committed to serving as advisory members of the council for the length of the grant, sharing their experiences, guiding the direction of the program, and advocating for the work in the community. Their perspectives were vital to understanding how the zoo can create the best experiences for them.

    “Unless you’ve been through it yourself, you never realize the challenges faced by the special needs community,” says Leesha Thrower, an FAC member whose daughter was born with Down syndrome. “You want your children to be included in all parts of life and have those outside the community understand how to interact and be supportive.”

    The members of the FAC, who also included Cassandra and Troy Clement, helped set the goals and dreams for the program, which were not always what the CZBG team expected. Some of the improvements the zoo has made on the FAC’s recommendation include, for instance, installing four adult-size changing tables, creating a sensory-friendly Santa meet-and-greet during the holiday season, and constructing calming rooms for when a family needs a place to self-regulate from sensory overload. The FAC also serve as major advocates for the zoo with other families with disabilities, as they communicate about these improvements and the successful visits they’ve allowed for.

    The FAC also helps in planning new habitats opening at the zoo, providing vital expertise to help staff account for pinch points. For instance, When the zoo opened a new habitat called Roo Valley this August, the FAC families were invited to a private event to experience the new habitats and provide feedback. Events like this help CZBG better train employees, prep and distribute social narratives, and make updates to signage when needed.

    “They’re making fantastic changes,” Cassandra Clement says. “How cool for them to be the leaders in Cincinnati for true accessibility. And it has been fun to be a part of the improvements.”

    While the CZBG team will submit the final reports for the IMLS grant in 2021, the program is built to last. Now being chaired by Alix Gasser, Director of Membership, Business Development and FUN!, and Dave Jenike, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President, the Zoo Access for All program will continue to grow and evolve. “We want to stay relevant within our community in an ever-changing world,” Gasser says. “I think our Zoo Access for All program will continue to do just that”.

    Now, the CZBG is exploring other ways to become more accessible to visitors with disabilities, like those who are blind or visually impaired. The work is not done; it’s only the beginning. “This program is ingrained in the culture of the Zoo now,” says Dave Jenike.

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 4:04 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The New York Times

    While many California museums are still shuttered because of the coronavirus, and others are opening slowly at limited capacity, the Institute of Contemporary Art San José has come up with an ingenious solution to open the museum, legally, for four days.

    Starting on Oct. 31 through Election Day, the museum will become a polling site. Alison Gass, its executive director, is hoping that civic-minded citizens will stream through the museum to vote and take time to appreciate the art inside (a local art exhibition called “Personal Alchemy”) and out.

    It will be hard not to notice.

    A 50-foot vinyl mural by the Iranian-born artist Amir H. Fallah will wrap around the museum’s facade, and two six-foot circular paintings of his will slowly rotate in two windows.

    In his mural, titled “Remember This,” messages in vibrant colors read: “REMEMBER MY CHILD NOWHERE IS SAFE”; “THEY WILL SMILE TO YOUR FACE”; and “A BORDERLESS WORLD,” along with other text. By “child,” Mr. Fallah means his younger self — by the age of 6, he had lived in four countries (Iran, Italy, Turkey and the United States) — and his 5-year-old son. “In America, people have a false sense of security,” he said in a recent interview.

    In late July, Ms. Gass, who also is the museum’s chief curator, asked Mr. Fallah to paint a mural that addressed “the social and political conditions happening in this election and beyond.” He told her that was what he was thinking about, too. His paintings would appear outside of the institute, “because we wanted a safe way for people to see art,” Ms. Gass said.

    A few days later, she met with her longtime collaborator, Florie Hutchinson, who was about to become the museum’s director of external relations. Ms. Hutchinson thought of a way for more people to see Mr. Fallah’s art: Make the institute a polling place.

    “Many people in the past voted at their neighbor’s garage or in retirement homes,” said Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state. That is no longer possible. California is promoting vote by mail “as a preferred option,” Mr. Padilla said. But for those wanting to vote in person, he said, counties have become “more creative.”

    Santa Clara County, of which San Jose is the county seat, will be using libraries, empty schools, City Hall Council chambers, another museum and even a police department, ,said Paulo Chang, the county registrar of voters, election division coordinator.

    As people enter the polling place, Mr. Fallah said, “I want them to think about what their vote means, how it affects everyone and everything around them.”

    Mr. Fallah said his paintings for the museum are self-portraits with imagery from disparate cultures that express injustices all over the world. “This is a pretty political mural, but it doesn’t say to vote one way or another,” he added.

    (California does not allow anyone within 100 feet of a polling place to engage in electioneering, which refers to displays of a candidate’s name, likeness on buttons, hats or signs. It says nothing about art that addresses anxieties or calls for more empathy.)

    An American citizen, Mr. Fallah, 41, who lives in Los Angeles, said he has experienced what he calls the abuse of government power firsthand. In January 2017, when President Trump closed the nation’s borders to refugees and suspended immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries, he was detained “in a basement room at Newark Airport with other brown people,” almost all of whom were citizens, he said. He said his passport was taken from him.

    Mr. Fallah’s paintings reflect his fears that “the world is getting darker and darker,” he said. His concerns include but are not limited to “the environment, the treatment of children by ICE, racism, social injustice, an almost war with Iran for no reason,” he said.

    Mr. Fallah is also designing a giveaway button that says: “Vote like your life depends on it.” That message will be on signs in city bus shelters and on streetlight poles.

    “We were poised to be nimble, especially in a moment of unimaginable crisis for arts organizations,” Ms. Gass said.

    The institute, which used to be called the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art but was recently renamed, occupies a red brick, one-story building in downtown San Jose, the third-largest city in California, which Sam Liccardo, its mayor, has called “a city of immigrants.” As of 2014, 38 percent of residents were immigrants, including an Iranian community.

    The institute, which is celebrating its 40th year, usually sees 30,000 visitors annually and has a $1.5 million budget. It received some assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program and has kept all seven employees.

    At the end of July, Ms. Gass, the former director of University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, was sitting on a curb in Palo Alto, sipping ice coffee with Ms. Hutchinson. They wanted Mr. Fallah’s art to be seen by as many people as possible during “this most important election of our lifetime,” Ms. Hutchinson said.

    The next day, in the shower, Ms. Hutchinson said, it came to her: “What if there’s a way we can open the building for the purposes of letting people vote?”

    Ms. Hutchinson was familiar with the California Voter’s Choice Act, which is designed to make voting more convenient. It decouples voting from neighborhoods by offering “vote centers,” larger venues near parking and transit hubs. Voters can choose any center countywide.

    “Throughout my career I’ve been drawn to art that is about politics,” such as Mr. Fallah’s work, Ms. Gass said, “in which you begin to find meaning for yourself.” She chose an artist from an underrepresented group: “artists from countries not given a big platform in American museums.” His work “is bound up in American identity and the immigrant experience,” she added, calling it “beautiful and disturbing.”

    Mr. Fallah’s art has been exhibited worldwide in over 100 shows. He is best known for his veiled people — concealed behind gorgeously patterned fabrics. His work was featured in an online exhibition last spring called “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?”

    His painting is 16 feet by 3 feet. Through the use of high-resolution photography, it has been enlarged and printed on vinyl as a mural. It and the two circular paintings are mash-ups: Ancient script is set against skateboarders’ graffiti, Persian miniature horses against the Black Panthers logo. The circular paintings represent Earth and are edged with “the chaotic mesh of plant life,” he said. One is called “Cowboy,” the other “Cowgirl,” inspired by vintage Valentines. Mixed in are images of a Cambodian propaganda figure, mythical figures from old match boxes, “debris of life” that he finds online. When the paintings rotate, plants and cultures will tumble onto one another.

    Explanatory text will appear in five languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Farsi.

    Mr. Fallah said he hoped his art would make people “stop in their tracks and think about what their vote means.”

    “The big thing missing in our society is empathy,” he said. Will his art make people care about others? “Will it? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s my desire.”

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 3:30 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Ridgefield Press

    A children's museum in New Orleans that was shuttered in August over slow ticket sales in the face of the coronavirus is now subbing as a school for some local students.

    The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported that the Louisiana Children's Museum closed in August as parents concerned about the coronavirus kept kids at home.

    But on Wednesday, the newspaper reports, students from the Langston Hughes Academy started using the museum as a school. The plan is for about 60 of the school's children from kindergarten and Pre-K classes to be able to have access to the facility located in City Park during the 2020-21 school year.

    The 56,000-square-foot (5,200-square-meter) building has multiple exhibits including a replica of the Mississippi River designed to give children hands-on learning experiences in a fun manner. The museum was once headquartered in the city's Central Business District but moved to the larger facility in City Park last year. There's also extensive outdoor spaces for children to explore.

    “It’s like Christmas. This is the most excited I’ve been about school in awhile,” school principal Carrie Bevans told the newspaper. “And the kids are thrilled ... there’s all these hands-on materials we’ve never had before.”

    The principal said it was the first time many of the kids had been to the museum. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, 94% of the school's 803 students are economically disadvantaged.

    Museum CEO Julia Bland said the Helis Foundation, a local philanthropic foundation, is paying for costs associated with using the museum as a school. Bland said she had been advocating with various education groups to find a way that the museum could be useful at a time when many schools are struggling to find enough space to teach.

    “Our world is filled with problems right now,” Bland said. “It’s just so great when you can say, ‘Well, here’s a small solution.’”

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 3:24 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Washington Post

    On a recent afternoon, a seemingly unremarkable brown parcel appeared on the front porch of Martin Goldsmith’s home in Kensington, Md.

    Goldsmith, 68, swiftly pried open the package. With careful hands, he uncovered a 16th-century kettle that belonged to Goldsmith’s grandparents before they died in the Holocaust.

    He examined the double-spouted cauldron — composed of brass, bronze and iron — with awe. It had quite a path before it landed on his doorstep.

    Goldsmith is well-versed in his family’s tragic history, having written two books on the subject. But unlike the anecdotes he has strung together over the years, the kettle represents something different to him: a rare, tactile treasure linking him to his paternal grandparents — whom he never met.

    Holding the kettle for the first time, Goldsmith was moved to tears.

    “There are very few things in the known universe that my grandparents touched,” Goldsmith said. “It was a semi-miraculous opportunity to touch something they had touched, to hold something they had held.”

    In early April, Goldsmith was unexpectedly contacted by an art historian from a museum in Oldenburg — the city in northwest Germany where his grandparents once lived and where his father was born.

    The message came from Marcus Kenzler — a researcher and cultural scientist who traces the origins of Nazi-looted property at the State Museum for Art and Cultural History, with the aim of returning the objects to the descendants of the original owners.

    “Like every human being, every object has its own individual biography,” said Kenzler, 48. He studies decades-old records to determine an object’s exact origins, searching for traces left by previous owners in an effort to reconstruct the precise path a relic once took.

    According to the museum’s inventory book, the kettle in question was sold by the Goldschmidt family in November 1934. Notably, “intensive research has shown that the sale of the kettle did not take place voluntarily but had a Nazi-persecution-related background,” Kenzler added.

    The Nazi involvement in the acquisition was made clear by the glaringly low sales price of the kettle: 20 Reichsmark, or approximately $11. In 1942, another museum acquired a similar object for 300 Reichsmark. Today, the kettle is valued at roughly $2,500.

    This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. More than 20 percent of art in Europe, collectively worth billions of dollars, was looted or coerced into a sale by the Nazis. It’s estimated that 100,000 pieces of the more than 600,000 stolen artifacts are still missing. The burden of restitution typically rests on descendants, who must prove their relation to the original owner.

    In an email to Goldsmith, Kenzler outlined his findings.

    “Fortunately, the history of your family can be reconstructed very well through your books, and I was able to find numerous other sources,” he wrote.

    Kenzler suggested that once his research was complete, the kettle — or Lavabokessel, the German term for the pouring vessel — should belong to Goldsmith, the last living relative of Alex and Toni Goldschmidt. Goldsmith has no children, and his parents, as well as his only brother, have all died.

    “I was very excited when I contacted Martin for the first time,” said Kenzler, adding that since beginning his research in 2011, he has returned only three other artifacts to the families of the original owners — two antique pieces of tin-glazed pottery and a large Renaissance cabinet. “It happens far too rarely that the provenance of a work of art or an object can be completely deciphered.”

    “I still have a lot of cases to solve,” he continued. “This work is important, and we have the historical obligation to come to terms with the injustices and horrors of the past.”

    In response to Kenzler’s email, Goldsmith wrote, “Though born decades after the Nazi era, you have not shirked from the responsibility of facing up to the horrors of those years but rather have done what you can to try to balance the scales of justice, impossible though that task may ultimately be.”

    The kettle finally arrived in Maryland on Oct. 11, nearly 86 years after it had left the family’s hands.

    Before World War II, Goldsmith’s grandfather, Alex Goldschmidt, operated a successful women’s clothing store, called Haus der Mode, in Oldenburg. The family of six lived in a grand home, adorned with sculptures, paintings and other artistic objects that reflected their good fortune.

    Everything changed in November 1932, when Nazi officials informed the Goldschmidts that they had no choice but to sell their home — since a Jew was no longer permitted to own such a fine dwelling. It was sold for a mere fraction of its true value.

    “The house is worth easily $6 million today, and it was sold for just over $10,000,” Goldsmith said. “They were forced to move into smaller and smaller quarters.”

    In the years that followed, more laws and restrictions against Jews were enacted, leading up to the November Pogrom in 1938 — also known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass — in which thousands of Jewish-owned shops and synagogues were destroyed throughout Nazi Germany, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, including Goldsmith’s grandfather, Alex Goldschmidt.

    The following year, Alex Goldschmidt and his son Helmut fled Germany on the S.S. St. Louis, a ship filled mostly with Jewish refugees that sailed to Cuba, but was turned away. After unsuccessfully appealing to the United States and Canada, the ship and its passengers returned to Europe.

    In August 1942, Alex Goldschmidt and Helmut were murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp. Two months later, his wife, Toni, and their daughter Eva were killed in a forest outside Riga, Latvia.

    One Goldschmidt daughter survived, escaping to Leeds, England. A son, Gunther Ludwig Goldschmidt, managed to flee to America when he was 27 — just in time to be spared. Once in the United States, he changed his name to George Gunther Goldsmith, and had two sons, one of them being Martin Goldsmith.

    While in Germany, George Goldsmith was able to survive by being part of an all-Jewish performing arts ensemble called Jüdischer Kulturbund, composed of musicians, artists and actors who had been barred from German institutions. The Nazis permitted the group, which his wife (Martin Goldsmith’s mother) also belonged to, as part of a Nazi propaganda effort to shield the oppression of Jews from the outside world.

    The group was eventually forced to shutter in 1941, though Goldsmith’s parents managed to make it to New York City immediately before.

    They raised their two sons in St. Louis and spoke very little of their Jewish identity or past traumas, Goldsmith recalled.

    “In my father’s mind, to be a Jew was to be an outcast, to be hated, to be murdered,” said Goldsmith. “So, I did not grow up with a sense of being a Jew.”

    Goldsmith moved through life, attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and ultimately settling in Kensington, with very little attachment to Judaism.

    It wasn’t until his 50s that Goldsmith, who has worked as a radio host and classical music programmer for 45 years in the D.C. area, developed a yearning to understand his Jewish identity and family history.

    “I had a desire to somehow be connected to my family, to the people who, by all rights, I should have known,” Goldsmith said, adding that he studied and had his bar mitzvah at age 55.

    He went on to write two books about the Goldschmidt family history, one of which — “The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany” — has become the basis for an upcoming documentary film he co-wrote called “Winter Journey,” airing this December. The book and film chronicle the story of Goldsmith’s parents and their experience playing in an all-Jewish orchestra in Nazi Germany.

    In researching his books, Goldsmith visited Oldenburg several times and even toured the stately house that his family once occupied, now inhabited by a German architect and his family.

    “I experienced nearly every emotion in the catalogue,” Goldsmith said. “It was terribly exciting to be inside this house where my family had lived, and it was devastating to think of what had happened to them.”

    Although the brief visit to the home brought Goldsmith closer to his relatives in some way, it was fleeting, he said.

    “The house is no longer in the family. The paintings and various other art objects in the house are all gone. Traces of my family are gone. Except for this little kettle,” he said from the dining room of his Maryland home, where the kettle now sits on a shelf in a place of honor.

    Goldsmith looked over at the small vestige of his legacy — a tangible piece of his history, that is finally his to hold.

    “It’s an object that 85 years ago lived in my grandparents’ house. These people whom I never had a chance to meet passed by it and touched it and used it,” said Goldsmith, adding that this type of kettle was historically — and ironically, given the pandemic — used for the ceremonial washing of hands, though he is not sure how his grandparents used it, or if it was simply on display in their home.

    Since the kettle arrived, every evening before bed, Goldsmith finds himself doing the same thing: “I walk past it, and I touch it,” he said. “It’s a way of telling my family good night.”

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 3:14 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from IFCPP Associate Member Art Sentry

    Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit, many museums and cultural institutions around the world have needed to temporarily close their doors. While this obviously affects the financial well-being of each of these individual institutions, the broad cultural benefits of museums in our country, our greater economy, and the emotional well-being of our society have been sorely missed.

    It may be a cliche to say that learning from the past can help us guide our way to a prosperous future, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  2020 has seen our culture become divided along political and cultural lines, and the opportunity to study past societies is as important as ever in these polarized times. Museums and cultural institutions play a significant role in helping us find perspective and context for our current issues, and the lack of access to that historical background certainly isn’t helping us overcome this division.

    It’s also important not to minimize the contributions our artistic and cultural institutions have on our collective emotional well-being. The human experience is all about connection—to each other, to our environment, to our past, and to our future. Without access to art and culture, part of that connection is temporarily missing from our lives.

    This is especially true at the local level. There are more than 35,000 museums in the United States, and regional museums (like America’s many great county museums) are a vital piece of our communities. Local museums are invaluable as they offer a glimpse into the history of a specific location, and help us to honor our communal cultures, customs, heritage, and legacy.

    The impact on our educational institutions is clear as well. We can’t expect our children to receive the same level of instruction and cultural experience on a video call as they would by browsing the aisles of an art museum or interacting with the exhibits at their local science museum.

    Economically, the importance of museums and cultural institutions to the broader tourism industry cannot be overlooked. Popular museums draw in visitors from every corner of the earth, and people often plan vacations around visits to these institutions.

    Without those tourism dollars, local economies around the country are being stretched thin. In fact, the museum industry contributes around $50 billion to the United States economy each year, and there are more than 725,000 jobs associated with these institutions. That’s a significant financial and societal cost that isn’t easily replaced.

    Furthermore, the impact of cultural institutions on marginalized communities is nearly immeasurable. Museums that explore issues related to race relations, sexual orientation (or gender identity), and other historically vulnerable social groups are vital to the health of those communities and encourage allyship—which is always important in divisive and uncertain times.

    Thankfully, the doors of these institutions are beginning to open. Someday soon, we will return to our fully-open artistic and cultural establishments, and Art Sentry’s state-of-the-art security features are here to ensure that this return goes as smoothly as possible. The last thing any museum staff wants to worry about when reopening their doors is the safety and security of their exhibits.

    To learn more about how our comprehensive security system reduces costs, prevents object touches and works in tandem with your security team, contact us today!

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 3:09 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Guardian

    Some of the most precious paintings in the world, a billion-dollar haul including work by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas and Manet, were stolen from a gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, in an audacious heist 30 years ago. But now, just as a British detective closes in on what he believes are the best clues so far to the masterpieces’ hiding place, his key contact, an Irish gangster, has disappeared.

    Martin “the Viper” Foley, a well-known convicted criminal who has operated on the fringes of gangland political violence in Ireland for half a century, has suddenly dropped out of negotiations, according to Charles Hill, a leading art sleuth. And Foley’s promise to reunite the public with these great works, including Vermeer’s The Concert, the most valuable missing artwork in the world, has vanished with him.

    Over a string of secret meetings and telephone calls in the summer of 2019, Foley steered Hill towards a potential deal with the surviving members of a gang he claims took the art and hid it three decades ago. But this summer, after early publicity in Ireland about the negotiations, Foley, who is also wanted for unpaid taxes, dropped out of sight.

    It was reported in February that the 66-year-old was in hiding after a warning from the Gardai, the Irish police, of a serious threat to his life from fellow gang members. “If anyone can find these paintings, Charley Hill can,” said John Wilson, the BBC journalist behind a new documentary film, The Billion Dollar Art Hunt, about the investigation. “He is still convinced they are in Ireland and that a deal to return them is possible.”

    In the early hours of 18 March 1990, as the noise of St Patrick’s Day celebrations dwindled outside, two men dressed as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and, after handcuffing the guards, took almost an hour and a half to select the artworks they wanted. The heist remains notorious in the art world, and is the single biggest theft of property in America.

    The museum is offering a $10m reward for information leading to the paintings’ recovery. Hill, a former head of the Met’s art and antiques squad who recovered Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 1994, followed a credible lead to west Dublin last autumn. Wilson and a BBC camera crew chronicled the investigation for the documentary, which is to be shown on BBC4 next week.

    Since leaving the police after 20 years, Hill has operated independently and so is able to offer ransom money on behalf of the owners of missing artworks. This means working at the dangerous interface between art thieves and dealers, and in the case of the Boston heist, also on the edges of the world of former Republican activists in Ireland. Hill led a team that recovered another Vermeer and a Goya stolen in 1986 from Russborough House in County Wicklow. This theft had been masterminded by an old associate of Foley’s, the Dublin gangster Martin Cahill.

    Foley, who is also wanted in Ireland for unpaid taxes amounting to €738,449 (£669,500), failed to meet Hill and Wilson in person in Ireland, but another criminal source, who appears anonymously in the film, confirmed his theory that the works were shipped to Ireland after the Boston theft.

    “The Boston police, the FBI and the security experts at the museum have always believed the paintings stayed in the city, but Charley disagrees, because there are too many things pointing to Ireland now,” said Wilson this weekend.

    If anyone has recently walked into a room where The Concert, or Rembrandt’s only seascape, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, were hanging, to say nothing of the Manet, five sketches by Degas and a Govert Flinck landscape, they are likely to have become suspicious. The truth is, however, that they are probably all hidden behind a wall or in a cellar, on one side of the Atlantic or the other, waiting to serve as collateral in gangland trade or to be swapped for cash.

    The still-empty frames in the museum where they were once proudly displayed are a reminder of what has been lost. Wilson and Hill travel to Boston for the documentary to speak to the curators and detectives who have followed every twist in the story. The trail led first to the Italian-American community in the city and then it indicated the involvement of James “Whitey” Bulger, one of America’s most wanted crime bosses until his arrest in 2011 in Santa Monica. FBI agents uncovered money and illegal firearms in his home, but no art.

    For Hill, and for the museum’s security adviser, Anthony Amore, the unlikely theft of some lower-value sketches of horses by the French artist Edgar Degas, points at the very least to a group of criminals with a strong interest in the race track.

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 3:03 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from Artnet News

    A Canadian woman who stole artifacts from Pompeii 15 years ago has now returned them, claiming that they have brought nothing but bad luck to her family.

    The 36-year-old woman, who gave only her first name of Nicole, sent a hand-written confession and apology along with the stolen objects—which include parts of an amphora vase, mosaic tiles, and shards of ceramics—to a travel agent in southern Italy, who then passed them along to officials.

    “I was young and dumb,” Nicole wrote in the letter, which was first published in the Italian newspaper Il Messagerro. “I wanted to have a piece of history that couldn’t be bought. I never realized or thought about what I was actually taking. I took a piece of history captured in time that has so much negative energy attached to it.”

    She goes on to explain that she associates her youthful indiscretion with a long run of bad luck, including two bouts of breast cancer, a double mastectomy, and ongoing financial issues. “We’re good people and I don’t want to pass this curse on to my family or children,” the letter concludes, “please, take them back.”

    Pompeii’s own legacy of bad luck begins, of course, with its instantaneous obliteration amid Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 AD, which wiped out all inhabitants. Although for many years historians believed that the residents were suffocated by the volcanic ash, excavations revealed that collapsed buildings crushed most of the people. The residents of Pompeii lived opulent, pleasure-seeking lives, and the mystery of their untimely demise has incited some to wonder if their sexual proclivities and materialistic ways somehow contributed to their death.

    Nicole is not the first visitor to return objects to Pompeii that had “negative energy.” In 2015, a rash of guilt-ridden tourists sent back stones and other ceramic pieces, citing a curse that they traced back to visiting the ancient ruins. A Canadian couple also returned tokens they swiped from the site.

    “We are sorry,” Nicole ended her confession, “please forgive us for making this terrible choice. May their souls rest in peace.”

    See Original Post

  • October 20, 2020 2:58 PM | Office IFCPP (Administrator)

    Reposted from The Telegraph

    Art thieves are targeting the same high-profile paintings in the hope of ransoming them for their safe return, experts have warned.

    The growing number of cases of world-famous paintings being stolen more than once has raised concerns that museums are failing to learn the lessons of previous thefts.

    But it has also raised the prospect that thieves are targeting the same paintings over and over again not for their own worth but to be used as a bargaining chip in the future.

    In some cases gangs are thought to use brokers or intermediaries to obtain cash rewards from insurance firms for their return.

    In others paintings of high artistic and financial value are being deployed as a means of reducing any jail sentences if members of organised criminal gangs are caught and brought to trial.

    Gangs are also thought to be using the theft of paintings to enhance their prestige and reputation in criminal circles.

    Art recovery investigator and lawyer Chris Marinello (below) has warned that collectors and art retrieval services need to stop agreeing to pay large sums for the return of stolen paintings.

    He told The Telegraph: “There are some unscrupulous operators who hold themselves out as art recovery experts who will pay criminals, or more usually middle-men, for the return of stolen objects.

    “Unfortunately this creates a market for further thefts, sometimes of the very same paintings, down the line.”

    There is no suggestion the world’s established art museums are engaging in such practices, says Mr Marinello. However, private collectors are less likely to ask questions in return for their beloved pieces.

    The repeated theft of a number of high-profile paintings in recent years has raised concerns over the tactics of organised gangs and the response of the international art market.

    Frans Hals’s Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer was stolen for the third time in as many decades, making it the latest high-profile work to become a repeat victim of seemingly targeted thefts. 

    In the most recent theft the 1626 painting was taken in August from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden museum, in Leerdam, during an overnight raid by thieves who forced their way into the back of the building in the western Netherlands. 

    It had previously been stolen from the museum in 1988 and 2011, along with - on both occasions - another 17th-century work, Forest View with Flowering Elderberry by Jacob van Ruisdael.

    Edvard Munch’s The Scream has been stolen twice from its Oslo museum and Ruisdael’s The Cornfield, was stolen three times between 1974 and 2002.

    Mr Marinello, the chief executive and founder of Art Recovery International, says that in some cases police will approve the payment of rewards for the return of stolen art, though this is illegal in some jurisdictions, if the ‘finder’ of the painting is vetted and found to be legitimate. 

    In rare cases government agencies approve the payment of rewards  for information leading to the return of national treasures, such as the Turner paintings owned by the Tate - Light and Colour and Shade and Darkness - stolen from a Frankfurt museum in 1994.

    But Mr Marinello, who has worked with foreign governments and heirs of Holocaust victims to recover stolen and looted artwork and cultural property, added: “There are some unscrupulous people on the fringes who broker deals with insurance companies and this only serves to encourage repeated thefts of paintings. If we as a firm refuse to pay for say, a stolen Picasso - as we have in the past -  someone else will unfortunately do so.

    “I get calls all the time offering to sell me something that is clearly stolen, but I don’t pay criminals.”

    Mr Marinello says that as well as being exchanged for cash for their safe return stolen works can be used as leverage to obtain reduced criminal sentences.

    “A criminal gang or fence will obtain a painting from a thief to be used down the line in order to plea bargain, allowing them to offer up the work of art so it can be taken into account when it comes to sentencing.”

    Robert Read, the head of art and private clients at Hiscox insurers, added. “One thing I’m seeing more of is the use of such stolen works as a bargaining chip for [reducing] sentences, particularly in Italy, France and the US, where there is a culture of plea bargaining. The more publicity and better known a work is, the better.”

    In some cases stolen paintings are traded in the underworld for other commodities, such as guns or drugs. In the seventies the IRA attempted to use 19 paintings worth £8 million stolen from the Alfred Beit collection at Russborough House, in Blessington, south of Dublin, as collateral to buy arms. The collection has been subsequently targeted by criminal gangs on at least three other occasions.

    Art Recovery International has urged museums to avoid slipping into complacency over the strength of their security systems, warning that a painting stolen once could be targeted again.

    “Many museums don’t necessarily beef up security after a theft and hope that ‘lightning won’t strike twice,” said Mr Marinello.

    “That is obviously not the case and they need to learn from these repeat offences.”

    See Original Post

  
 

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