INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from Artnet News
Last week, in what could be a major turning point in its war against Ukraine, Russia announced a retreat from the war-torn city of Kherson. But before the occupying troops left the strategic city, they emptied one of its most important artistic institutions.
According to the Ukrainian military’s National Resistance Center, Russian soldiers looted nearly 15,000 objects from the Oleksiy Shovkunenko Kherson Art Museum and other cultural venues in the region two weeks ago. The move came just days after Vladimir Putin imposed martial law in Kherson and three other Ukrainian territories, effectively legalizing the “evacuation” of cultural heritage.
The Kherson Art Museum confirmed the theft in a Facebook post, explaining that between October 31 and November 3, three or four dozen Russian troops arrived at the institution and “took out works of art and office equipment—everything they saw, everything their raking hands could reach.”
Paintings and other works of art were “wrapped in some kind of rag,” rather than proper packing supplies, according to the museum, and loaded on trucks and buses. The looted goods were then transferred to Simferopol in Crimea.
The museum explained at the time that its administrators did not know what was stolen, but said there was little doubt that the “most valuable” items in the collection were targeted.
“In their opinion, this is called ‘evacuation,’” the museum’s post read. “In our opinion, [it is] looting under the slogans of ‘preserving cultural values.’”
Prior to the incident, the museum’s collection included religious paintings from the 17th and 20th centuries, Ukrainian art from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and contemporary art from the last 100 years. In a media briefing addressing the theft, the head of the Kherson City Council’s Department for Culture, Svitlana Dumynska, called it “one of the most impressive collections of regional museums in Ukraine.”
Dumynska added that the Kherson local history museum was also targeted by Russian Troops, “but we have much less information about it.”
By November 3, Kherson police opened a criminal investigation into the theft, classifying it and other attacks in the region as a war crime.
Days later, images that allegedly showed the stolen Kherson Art Museum objects being unloaded at the Central Museum of Taurida in Simferopol circulated on Ukrainian social media. In another Facebook post, the museum identified several works of art in the pictures, including paintings by Ukrainian modernists Ivan Pokhytonov and Mykhailo Andrienko-Nechitaylo.
In a November 10 interview with the Moscow Times—an independent news outlet—the Taurida museum’s director, Andrei Malgin, confirmed that the looted artworks had indeed landed in Simferopol.
“Due to the introduction of martial law on the territory of the Kherson region, I have been instructed to take the exhibits of the Kherson Art Museum for temporary storage and ensure their safety until they are returned to their rightful owner,” Malgin said.
The Kherson Art Museum has been closed since the city was seized by Russian soldiers in the early days of the invasion. The institution’s director, Alina Dotsenko, departed for Kyiv in May after Russian occupiers demanded that the museum stage a propagandistic exhibition, according to the Art Newspaper.
This month, Dotsenko told Ukrainian media that, before she left, she convinced the Russians that the museum’s collection had been relocated in preparation for a planned renovation. She also deleted information about the institution’s holdings from its computers.
But Dotensko said that another museum employee, curator Natalya Koltsova, led Russian troops to the stored collection in July. Koltsova, whom Dotsenko had fired the year prior, was brought back in to the work with the Russians, and a former cabaret singer was installed as a puppet director.
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Reposted from Security Management Magazine
Seventeen years ago, two security professional organizations began promoting the philosophy of security convergence. ASIS International and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) banded together in 2005 to create the Alliance for Enterprise Security Risk Management (AESRM) to promote the concept of security convergence.
To them, security convergence consisted not only of physical and cybersecurity combined, but also security responsibility within human resources, crisis management, and operational lines of responsibility, according to a 2007 Deloitte whitepaper on the concept. But just 24 percent of surveyed respondents’ organizations had some form of convergence in place.
“How security is perceived may also be an obstacle to convergence. At present, physical and information security are viewed as separate functions with major differences,” wrote Adel Melek, partner, global leader, Security and Privacy Services, Deloitte, and Ray O’Hara, CPP, then chairman of AESRM, in the whitepaper. “There is little doubt that perceptions will have to change before the convergence of physical and information security functions becomes an accepted way of managing security risk. Convergence is intuitive and logical—but it has not yet arrived.”
But the post-9/11 wars, the rapid advancement of technology, the explosion of Internet of Things devices, extreme stress on the supply chain, a lasting security workforce shortage, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to a change in perception that will usher in the moment for security convergence. That seems to be the finding in the most recent research on the topic, Security Convergence and Business Continuity: Reflecting on the Pandemic Experience, published in September 2022.
The ASIS Foundation sponsored research conducted by Justice & Security Strategies, Inc. (JSS), and DTE Consulting, which surveyed and analyzed responses from 1,092 individuals from 89 countries and regions about their convergence status and views. The researchers also conducted 21 interviews to explore the survey responses further, following separate research conducted by the foundation in 2019 on convergence.
More than 60 percent of those respondents indicated that their organizations had now fully or partially converged their security functions (29.3 percent complete, 31.2 partially, and 39.5 percent not converged). Similar to the 2007 report, the foundation convergence research focused on the melding of cyber and physical security with business continuity planning.
“Most companies that reported partial convergence merged their physical security and business continuity practices,” according to the report. “One of the reasons that convergence with cybersecurity appears to be lagging behind physical security and business continuity convergence may be due to differences in the skill sets required for oversight of each function.”
In a follow-up interview to the survey, for instance, one respondent said that the specialization for cybersecurity and physical security makes it difficult to find someone who excels in both arenas—slowing the organization’s ability to converge these functions.
Martin Gill, managing director of Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International and vice chair of the ASIS Foundation, says one reason for this discrepancy might be that the historical backgrounds of the physical security profession and the cybersecurity profession—which evolved from the IT world—could attract different types of individuals.
And these individuals may possess vastly diverse skill sets, with cyber practitioners having a more robust knowledge of cybersecurity threats and tactics, hardware, and software, versus a physical security professional who is more familiar with security guards, technology to support access control measures, and facility management.
“Over time, that’s beginning to wear away with the modern thinking and approach to enterprise security—to treat all your risks as risk,” Gill says. “If there are risks, there’s a process on how they should be managed. In theory, this brings cyber and physical together.”
For converged organizations, most survey respondents said a CSO—or equivalent position—was responsible for the enterprise security risk management function, and all aspects of the organization responsible for critical asset protection reported to that person.
Within that organizational structure, approaches to convergence varied, with some taking functional approaches while others took procedural approaches. A functional approach could consist of structural changes, holding security trainings and awareness courses, developing policies, and making other real-world changes.
“An international security company with converged business continuity planning and physical security implemented a training program that temporarily placed physical security personnel in business continuity planning-related positions, while also putting internal business continuity planning personnel staff out in the field,” the report explained. “The idea of this program was to allow personnel from both sides to gain a better understanding of security procedures with a holistic view. This assisted the organization in obtaining better adherence to policy while individuals gained a broader perspective of security.”
On the flip side, procedural approaches to convergence focused on the organization’s missions and adopting a holistic framework for security functions.
“These methods were less concerned with action items or check boxes, and more concerned with the organization’s problem-solving approach,” the report explained.
Additionally, smaller organizations were more likely to be further along in their convergence journey than large organizations. The report revealed that nearly 74 percent of respondents from small and “micro” companies were fully or partially converged, compared to 52.5 percent of large companies and 64.4 percent of medium-sized companies.
Darrell Darnell, president of DTE Consulting and a lead author of the report, says he was surprised to find that smaller organizations were leading the way on convergence.
“I would have thought that larger agencies would have converged at a higher rate because of their reputations and the potential for more government oversight if a major incident occurred on their watch,” he explains.
Despite their convergence status, 80 percent of respondents said that convergence strengthens various business functions: 83 percent said it was good for business continuity, 81 percent said it strengthened physical security, and 86 percent said it enhanced overall security.
There was an outlier, though—the enthusiasm for cyber convergence was markedly lower. Just 73 percent of respondents said convergence strengthened cybersecurity at their organization, with 23.7 percent saying it would make no change in the overall security posture.
This might be because the cyber function is often siloed within companies and there is a lack of understanding of how the cyber function integrates and impacts physical security and business continuity, until an incident occurs—such as the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in 2021.
“Colonial Pipeline was thinking like that—that we’re a pipeline and not really understanding how a separate physical, cyber, and business continuity approach affects them,” Darnell says. “Now they’re fighting to merge that physical security with them.”
While this might be the response for now, many respondents who said their organizations were not converged noted that they would be taking steps to do so in the future. Nearly 44 percent said they anticipated converging two or more security functions in the future, compared to previous ASIS Foundation research in 2019 that found that just 30 percent of respondents were prepared to take similar steps.
One of the reasons behind this move could be that more security practitioners are expected to place an emphasis on business continuity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Clearly organizations understand the importance of having business continuity planning for all types of contingencies,” says Craig Uchida, president and co-owner of JSS and another lead author of the report. “I also think they are starting to reassess exactly what business continuity planning means to their organizations, as it will look different depending on your organization, industry, size, and other factors.”
Respondents also said that demonstrations and social unrest were affecting how their organizations viewed security measures, and they were changing their approach to business continuity planning and convergence in response.
One respondent said, “these events forced us to be prepared to identify and respond to events globally 24/7/365 and be able to understand the impact on our assets; escalate issues to appropriate response teams quickly; reach out and account for our employees and their safety; and assure we can have a resilient supply chain in the face of disruptive events,” according to the report.
To assist security practitioners who may work for an organization that is not converged, the report’s authors made six recommendations: clearly define convergence and its benefits to the organization; assess the need and determine if convergence is practical; create and develop a convergence strategy that fits the organization’s goals; recognize the inherent difficulties in merging different personalities and processes; implement evidence-based best practices and strategies aligned with the overall goals of the organization; and conduct and provide convergence training and educational opportunities for staff.
The owner of a security company out of South Africa, for instance, has a firm that provides physical security to clients. But to ensure that the firm was considering cybersecurity risks as part of a converged approach, security officers were required to work with the IT team to understand the work it was doing.
“And he would have the IT folks do a tour with the physical security folks, so they could understand how the equipment was being used,” Darnell says, adding that it was a way to educate the entire organization about various risks and habits that might play into its overall security posture.
The report’s authors also emphasized that leadership—from the CEO to the president and other executives—is extremely important for organizations considering converging their security functions.
“There are people, places, and technology that are intertwined with these functions,” they wrote. “A strategic plan has to be developed. There has to be communication and transparency, and a good explanation for why convergence is taking place and the benefits for employees and the organization. Employees at all levels must be given an opportunity to play a part in the convergence process, including opportunities for re-training if necessary.”
This requires a recognition that while convergence will impact how the organization functions from an operational perspective, it also has ramifications for employees.
“The CEO needs to be involved to say how it’s going to affect the workforce. ‘How is this going to affect me? When we converge, am I going to lose my job or be retrained? Will I have more responsibility but my pay stay the same?’” Darnell says, adding that executives will need to clearly communicate with their employees to successfully converge.
Reposted from Forbes
Last month, the leading public health authority in the United States released a new report that outlines mental health standards for the workplace and comes packed with actionable recommendations. Executives that want to support the wellbeing of employees now have an assignment: putting the framework for workplace mental health into action.
COVID-19 alerted everyone to the depth and breadth of mental health challenges: 76% of U.S. workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition (anxiety, depression), up 17 percentage points in just two years. And 84% said at least one workplace factor had a negative impact on their mental health.
The first-ever U.S. surgeon general’s report on workplace mental health outlined the foundational role companies can play in promoting and protecting mental health. It provides a roadmap for employers as to why they should invest in mental health and wellbeing and how they can strengthen their organizations by doing so.
The report identifies five essential human needs that create the foundation for a mentally strong and resilient workplace:
Protection from harm. Companies must create the conditions for physical and psychological safety. To promote practices that protect workers, executives can: prioritize worker safety, provide adequate rest to combat fatigue, normalize mental health support, and operationalize diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility norms, policies, and programs.
Connection & community. Workplaces should foster positive social interactions and relationships to assure worker social support and belonging, a critical foundation for wellbeing. Recommended practices include: creating cultures of inclusion and belonging, cultivating trusted relationships, and encouraging collaboration and teamwork.
Work-life harmony empowers employees with autonomy and flexibility to integrate work and non-work demands. Key components include: giving people more control over how work is done; making schedules as flexible as possible; increasing access to paid leave; respecting boundaries between professional and personal time.
Mattering at work validates worker’s dignity to make them feel respected and valued and infuses purpose and significance into the work itself. To create this culture, workplaces can: provide a living wage, engage workers in workplace decisions, build a culture of gratitude and recognition, and connect individual work with the organization’s mission.
Opportunity for growth. Organizations must create more avenues to help workers accomplish goals and recognize their contributions to organizational success. Companies can achieve these goals by offering quality training, education and mentoring, fostering clear and equitable pathways for career advancement, and ensuring relevant and reciprocal feedback. Such efforts can then be measured with comprehensive and data driven tools that are able to self-assess, benchmark programming and services, and access resources to improve efforts. In order to continue to grow, organizations must be able to measure their progress and make the necessary changes to support employee’s mental health and wellbeing.
Every employer is affected by the mental health crisis. Now there are practical steps employers can and should take. It’s no longer enough to acknowledge mental health challenges in the workplace; there is now a framework to respond.
In 1914, activist Mary Richardson entered London’s National Gallery armed with a meat cleaver and slashed Diego Velazquez’s 17th-century painting The Rokeby Venus. The attack, she explained, was intended as a form of protest against the arrest of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history,” Richardson wrote at the time. “Justice is an element of beauty as much as color and outline on canvas.”
Now, more than a century later, the climate activists of Just Stop Oil may look to Richardson’s attack for inspiration as they attempt to “escalate” their own protest campaign, which has heretofore involved defacing—but not damaging—some of the world’s best-known artworks.
In an interview with Sky News, Just Stop Oil spokesperson Alex De Koning said that his group may soon follow in the footsteps of suffragettes who “violently slashed paintings in order to get their messages across.”
“If things need to escalate then we’re going to take inspiration from past successful movements and we’re going to do everything we can,” De Koning went on. “If that’s unfortunately what it needs to come to, then that’s unfortunately what it needs to come to.”
When asked by the interviewer if that means that upcoming protests could include slashing artworks, the activist simply said, “It could potentially come to that at one point in the future, yeah.”
De Koning’s warning will surely sit uneasily with museum administrators in Europe and beyond who, for months now, have worked under the constant threat that their own institution’s masterpieces could be targeted next. Since this summer, nearly two dozen—and perhaps more—iconic artworks, including pieces by Picasso, Vermeer, and Monet, have been attacked by different climate activist collectives.
In late June and early July, for example, Just Stop Oil members glued themselves to four paintings across the U.K. A pair of protestors from Germany’s Letzte Generation group threw buckets of mashed potatoes on Monet’s Haystacks (1890) in October, while three activists from Italy’s Ultima Generazione tossed pea soup at Van Gogh’s The Sower (1888) the following month. Each episode went viral.
In all cases, the attacks were purposely orchestrated in ways that left the targeted artworks without permanent damage. However, many of the demonstrators now face the prospect of jail time for their stunts.
The incidents, which have now occurred in multiple countries around the world, fomented a wave of debates about the efficacy of protest tactics. One critic called the vandals “embarrassing”; another referred to them as “pathetic.” “Take it out on the oil companies you morons, not on innocent art,” the latter tweeted.
Last month, 92 representatives from cultural institutions published an open letter decrying the environmental groups’ campaigns. The activists “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” the letter read. “As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.”
But De Koning and his group have not been deterred by the backlash or the prospect of punishment. Quite the opposite, it seems.
The activists are “not going to be intimidated by potential prison time,” the spokesperson said. “At least in prison you get three meals a day and shelter and water. In 20 years’ time, who knows if that’s still the case for millions of people.”
Last month, London police warned that the climate protestors may intensify their campaign in the lead-up to Christmas.
De Koning, for his part, said Just Stop Oil will “continue to escalate unless the government meets our demand” to halt future gas and oil projects.
“We’re fighting for our lives, why would we do any less?”
Reposted from The Art Newspaper
An artist leading a mass protest staged last week at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) says that the action marked more than 40 days since a massacre in Zahedan, southeastern Iran, when security forces reportedly killed around 96 people.
Mediseh Bathaie led the group of Iranian artists and scientists who handcuffed themselves to Chris Burden’s celebrated Urban Light (2008) installation located at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance of Lacma. The group distributed leaflets stating that “a revolution is happening in the streets of Iran and the Islamic Republic is violently trying to silence freedom workers”.
The protest again puts the spotlight on human rights abuses in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in September. Amini died in an Iranian hospital after being detained by the regime’s morality police for allegedly not complying with the country’s hijab regulations. Her death sparked ongoing mass protests in Tehran and cities across Iran as well as protests across the globe.
On 30 September, a group of demonstrators protested outside a police station in Zahedan demanding accountability for the rape of a 15-year-old girl, according to Hyperallergic.
“The [Lacma] intervention marked the 40th day of [the death of] Khodanoor Lejei, a Sunni Baloch citizen who was shot during the Zahedan massacre known as Bloody Friday. Khodanoor was rushed into the hospital with a kidney injury and massive internal bleeding but the security forces prevented him from receiving the medical care he needed,” Bathaie tells The Art Newspaper.
Lejei, described as an anti-government activist by the LA protest group, died on 4 October. “We gathered on the 40th day after his death since in Islam there is a traditional memorial service with a family gathering, ceremony, and ritual in memory of the departed on the 40th day after his or her death,” Bathaie says.
A few months before his death, Lejei was arrested by the regime, Bathaie claims. “After torturing him, they tied him to a flagpole, wounded and bleeding, and when he asked for water they put it far away from his reach,” she says. A video released by the Lacma protest group showed Lejei dancing, which is “intended to show his liberation”, Bathaie adds.
The performance at Lacma also honoured Faezeh Barahouei, a university student who protested the rape of the 15-year-old girl. According to the leaflet distributed by the protestors: “Faezeh is thought of as one of the ‘faceless women’ of Baluchestan [province] who was fighting for justice before anyone else had known the full scope of what had happened.” The Revolutionary Court of Zahedan has sentenced Barahouei to three years and six months in prison, according to the website for the NCRI Women’s Committee.
Reposted from NPR
Protesters were arrested over the weekend after throwing mashed potatoes on a Claude Monet painting hanging in a German museum, the latest recent example of activists defacing (albeit briefly) famous artworks in order to draw attention to the existential threat posed by climate change.
The Barberini Museum in Potsdam said on Sunday that the painting itself — Grainstacks, which dates back to 1890 and is valued at $110 million — was protected by sealed glass and remains unharmed, though the 19th-century gold frame was damaged.
The museum has since announced that it will be closed until Sunday in order to discuss the incident and security measures with its national and international partners to "jointly set the course to preserve art and cultural assets for future generations."
"The attack on a work of the Hasso Plattner Collection as well as previous attacks on artworks, among others in the National Gallery in London, have shown that the high international security standards for the protection of artworks in case of activist attacks are not sufficient and need to be adapted," Director Ortrud Westheider said in a statement.
The mashed potato protest came roughly a week after activists from the British environmental group Just Stop Oil pulled a similar stunt at London's National Gallery, dumping cans of tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers in order to protest fossil fuel extraction.
Just as in Germany, the duo was arrested, and the museum said only the frame — not the painting itself — suffered minor damage.
Just Stop Oil had already gained visibility for its public acts of protest, with members gluing themselves to gallery walls and blocking roads and racetracks. It's one of several environmental activist groups that have carried out such art attacks in recent months, raising both awareness and controversy.
In May, a man disguised as an old woman in a wheelchair threw a piece of cakeat the Mona Lisa, shouting at people to "think of the Earth" as he was escorted out of the Louvre Museum in Paris. In July, Italian climate protesters glued their hands to the glass covering Sandro Botticelli's Primavera in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. Around the same time, members of Just Stop Oil stuck themselves to the frames of famous works in London, Manchester and Glasgow, and spray painted "No New Oil" under a copy of Da Vinci's The Last Supper.
None of the paintings themselves were permanently damaged — the largely symbolic demonstrations are intended not to destroy the art, but rather to ramp up public pressure on governments to halt destructive new fossil fuel licensingand production.
Phoebe Plummer, one of the Just Stop Oil activists who threw the tomato soup, said in an interview clip circulating on social media that the group wouldn't have considered taking such an action if they didn't know for a fact the painting was protected by glass. She added that the point isn't to ask whether people should be splashing soup on paintings, but to raise more urgent questions about fossil fuels, climate policy and the real humanitarian costs.
"We're using these actions to get media attention because we need to get people talking about this now," she says. "And we know that civil resistance works. History has shown us that it works."
Climate activists aren't the first to target famous artworks as sites of public protest. Here are three famous examples from over the years.
The Toilet of Venus, nicknamed The Rokeby Venus, is one of the most famous works — and the only surviving nude — by Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. It shows the Roman goddess of love lying naked on her side, with her back to the viewer, gazing into a mirror held up by Cupid.
In March 1914, a suffragette named Mary Richardson walked into London's National Gallery and slashed the painting several times with a meat cleaver, slicing across Venus' back and hip.
Richardson, an art student and journalist, did so as a deliberate act of protestagainst the arrest of British suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst. She later said she had chosen that particular work both because of its value and "the way men visitors gaped at it all day long."
"I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history," she said.
Richardson was sentenced to six months in jail but released after several weeks following a hunger strike. The museum closed for two weeks while its restorer repaired the painting, which is still on display today.
It was far from Richardson's only controversial act. Citing scholar Julie Gottlieb, Artsy.net explains that she was a noted arsonist who was arrested for civil disobedience on nine occasions — and whose politics took a dark turn.
After women won the right to vote, Richardson went on to join the fascist Blackshirts group and create the National Club for Fascist Women in London. She was reportedly expelled from the British Union of Fascists in 1935 for her feminist advocacy.
Pablo Picasso's Guernica, one of the most famous anti-war works of art, became the site of one such protest during the Vietnam War.
In February 1974, a year after Picasso's death, Iranian artist Tony Shafrazi produced a can of red spray paint from his pocket and wrote, "Kill Lies All" in massive letters across the black-and-white painting as it hung in New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Shafrazi, a member of the Art Workers' Coalition, was reacting to President Richard Nixon's pardoning of William Calley, who was the only U.S. Army officer to go on trial for the My Lai Massacre of 1968. He also said he was trying to reactivate Guernica as a cry of protest against war and civilian deaths, according to Spain's Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Shafrazi was led away from the scene and charged with criminal mischief. When asked by police why he did it, Shafrazi said "I'm an artist and I wanted to tell the truth," according to The New York Times.
The words he spray-painted reportedly alluded to a quote from the book Finnegans Wake by James Joyce: "Lies. All lies."
Technicians and conservators were able to erase the red lettering within an hour, using an organic solvent and surgical scalpels. Because the painting had been coated in a heavy varnish some years earlier, it did not suffer permanent damage (that coating had to be removed and was later replaced).
Shafrazi, who is now a prominent art dealer in New York, was greeted with a giant Guernica-inspired cake at an exhibit afterparty in 2008, and reportedly scrawled "I'M SORRY – NOT!" on it in red icing. When asked whether he would recreate the 1974 incident, if given the chance, Shafrazi told Vulture:
"Oh, it was a different time, you can't talk about it that way," he said. "It was a miserable time, and there was a need to be addressed. I was 30 years old. Many, many elements make that particular moment unique. I wouldn't be that person now, of course not."
In recent years, members of a drug policy group have held public demonstrations at prominent museums with financial ties to the Sacklers, the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.
PAIN (which stands for Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) was founded in 2017 by American photographer and activist Nan Goldin, who herself recoveredfrom a yearslong addiction to the powerful painkiller. The group aims to hold the manufacturers of the opioid crisis accountable, and initially focused mainly on what it calls the "toxic philanthropy of the billionaire Sackler family."
They've specifically pushed museums, universities and other institutions that have long accepted donations from the Sacklers to cut those financial ties and remove the family's name — which for many years was not widely recognized — from their buildings.
A large part of their strategy has been to protest publicly and creatively at those very institutions.
In March 2018, activists unfurled banners and scattered pill bottles (labeled "OxyContin" and "prescribed to you by the Sacklers") inside the Sackler wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, before lying down in a symbolic "die-in."
The following February, protesters at New York's Guggenheim Museum dropped thousands of slips of paper designed to look like OxyContin prescriptions into the central rotunda from above. Goldin said it was in response to a recently disclosed statement by a Sackler family member who said years ago that OxyContin's launch would be "followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition." Then they marched down Fifth Avenue and continued their protest on the steps of the Met.
That July, the group worked with French anti-opioid activists to stage a protest at the Louvre, which at the time had a "Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities." They stood in the pool next to the iconic glass pyramid holding a banner that read, "Take down the Sackler name," and also staged a die-in on the plaza.
The group conducted similar demonstrations at London's Victoria and AlbertMuseum and the Harvard Art Museum, as well as outside of the New York courthouse where the company's bankruptcy proceedings took place last year.
The Louvre became the first major museum to remove the Sackler name from its walls in July 2019. Since then many other museums, including the Met and the Guggenheim, have distanced themselves from the family. In London, the National Gallery, Tate museums, Serpentine Galleries, British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum have taken similar steps. Several have pledged to stop accepting donations from the family.
"Direct action works," Goldin said after the Guggenheim renamed its education center in May of this year. "Our group has fought for over four years to hold the family accountable in the cultural realm with focused, effective action, and with tremendous support from local groups that fought by our side."
At just three pounds, the brain is responsible for determining if we breathe, how we move, our manner of communication, what we think, how we feel, if we learn, what we remember, and what we hold meaningful.
Three pounds is responsible for who we are.
In the past several decades, the depth and breadth of brain research has exploded. Some of the most significant findings reveal the extent to which we can consciously influence the way our brains work and, consequently, how we show up in the world.
For security professionals, this has exciting implications for improving foundational skill sets, including complex decision-making, situational awareness, and de-escalation.
A basic understanding of the brain’s structure and functions—and of proven ways to naturally and effectively change brain chemistry—can elevate performance. Doing so also ensures that we are responding to circumstances with intention, rather than reacting solely on (neurochemical) impulse.
To understand how we can change our brains to support optimal performance, it is helpful to know a few basic concepts.
Brain Basic #1: The brain is a key part of the central nervous system. This includes the somatic and autonomic nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is most relevant to performance in security. The ANS consists of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with our aroused “fight or flight” responses to threats. The parasympathetic nervous system is inhibitory; it calms the body so it can resume normal functioning and recover from stress.
When faced with threat or conflict, the sympathetic nervous system—specifically, the amygdala—is what is sent into fight or flight mode. This occurs in 50 milliseconds, or roughly half the time of an eye blink. The sympathetic nervous system is highly developed, and it is estimated to be approximately 300 to 150 million years old.
In contrast, it takes approximately 10 times as long for the “younger” frontal lobe—which developed in humans and primates only 3 million years ago—to kick in.
In the .55 seconds before our frontal lobe reacts to a perceived threat, our sympathetic nervous system has already responded, and we will have a primitive emotional reaction of fear or anger. The body responds to these emotional cues by diverting resources away from parts that are less critical and concentrating them on those needed for survival, such as the larger muscles, heart, and lungs. Physiologically, this can result in increased heart rate, muscle tension, decreased saliva, and dilated pupils. A further cascade of additional physiological and cognitive changes can potentially compromise decision-making and situational awareness.
Vision can be impacted, resulting in “tunnel vision” or a narrowing of the visual field. Hearing can be affected, and we can experience muted, amplified, or missing sounds. Fine motor skills and coordination can be compromised. The ability to communicate can be impacted, resulting in issuance of unclear or even contradictory messages, such as, “Don’t move. Place the item on the floor,” or “Be quiet. Tell me your name.”
Additionally, because the brain’s more primitive way of responding to threats has been activated and its goal is to maintain safety, we are more susceptible to view situations from a biased perspective as we seek familiar patterns which might not accurately reflect the current circumstances.
Brain Basic #2: Autonomic does not mean automatic. The word “autonomic” was coined in the 1900s and reflects the brain research available at that time—it connotes an involuntary or unconscious response. Modern science demonstrates, however, that we can functionally change our autonomic states through breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, modulating our voices, altering our diet, and changing our thoughts. We do not need to automatically react to situations. Instead, we have the ability to intentionally respond.
Brain Basic #3: What fires together wires together. Known as Hebb’s Rule (so named after the pioneering neuropsychologist who proposed the groundbreaking theory), this concept summarizes the basic way humans learn and form memories: The repeated firing of proximate neurons in the brain causes the relationships between these neurons to strengthen. Eventually, the activation of one neuron will trigger the activation of another. These relationships allow us to learn complex tasks, such as playing a musical instrument or using a firearm.
Hebb’s Rule led to additional discoveries in neuroscience, including the concept of neuroplasticity, which shows that we can create new neural relationships throughout our lives. This is particularly important because some of our neural pairings may not have formed intentionally and may not serve us well. If early in life someone learned to smother feelings of fear or anxiety with anger, this now familiar response could be so conditioned that the person may not be aware of his or her initial experience of fear in a circumstance, and he or she risks missing valuable contextual information.
So, how can security professionals apply these basics to day-to-day tasks and challenges?
The ability to engage in complex decision-making and to maintain accurate situational awareness are foundational to effective security management.
Complex decision-making involves the deliberate evaluation of options and the selection of a course of action that is most likely to achieve a desired outcome. It requires an understanding of a situation and the ability to rationally choose from reasonable alternatives.
For security professionals, complex decision-making and the need for situational awareness are most often associated with potentially threatening or conflict-laden situations, moments when the brain will immediately respond in a manner that can undermine the ability to effectively respond.
This compromised response state results from Brain Basic #1—the role of the central nervous system.
Mitigating the impact of the sympathetic nervous system’s acute stress response—the primitive flight-or-fight emotional reaction that will physiologically occur faster than we can rationalize it away—involves Brain Basics #2 and #3.
A key first step is to identify that the autonomic nervous system has been triggered. Noting changes in breathing or heart rate and attaching language to the associated emotional experience—“I am feeling threatened” or “I am feeling agitated”—allows time for the cortex to catch up with the experience. Note the use of the phrase “I am feeling…” rather than “I am…” This will help prevent over-identification with the amygdala’s primitive emotional response, and it can short-circuit the fight or flight signal.
A second step is to regulate the physiological response, which typically involves taking deep, rhythmic breaths. While doing so, continue to engage the cortex by assessing the situation with questions like “What is the immediate threat?,” “Do I need to engage now?,” or “Is there something I’m missing?” Rapidly cycling through basic problem-focused questions supports rational decision-making that is less vulnerable to a reactive or biased response.
The brain’s neuroplasticity (referenced under Brain Basic #3) can help with longer-term management of the acute stress reactions triggered by the amygdala. By leveraging a few key tactics, we can literally rewire ourselves in advance of dealing with threats and conflicts to support more effective decision-making and improved situational awareness.
Physical rehearsal. Tabletops, functional, and full-scale exercises typically focus on the logistics and operations of responding to common threats. Incorporating scenarios that require rehearsing stress responses to a threat or conflict—responding to an armed or suicidal customer or patient, for example—and including a rehearsal of steps such as noticing changes in breathing or heart rate, naming feelings, taking deep rhythmic breaths, and rapidly cycling through problem-focused questions can train the brain to manage its responses when needed.
Mental rehearsal. Elite athletes, performers, and motivational speakers are among many professionals who prove that the brain doesn’t differentiate between reality and fantasy when it comes to improving performance. Engaging in mental rehearsals in which myriad threats are met with calm awareness and intervention can likewise improve performance when needs arise in real life.
Mindfulness meditation. Research demonstrates that mindfulness meditation, during which the focus is being intensely aware of what you are experiencing and feeling in the moment without evaluation or judgment, significantly improves the ability to regulate responses to emotional reactions.
Several studies show that those who engage in as little as 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation for five days demonstrate improved self-regulation. They also exhibit lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, plus a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol.
We not only have the ability to influence our own autonomic nervous system response when we perceive a threat, we can also influence the reaction of others who feel threatened.
Research on emotional contagion finds that humans synergize to each other’s emotional states. Marketers, professional sports leagues, and comedy shows that record before live audiences leverage this principle to influence behavior; the positive mood that spreads through groups increases individuals’ propensity to make purchases and enhances performance.
Recent studies show that the physiological and neurological matching occurs even in the absence of physical presence. For instance, emotional posts on social media platforms have been shown to be contagious. In a large-scale research study conducted by Facebook and several U.S. universities, positive and negative Facebook posts were manipulated. Researchers found that when positive posts were removed from accounts, leaving users with more negative content, they subsequently posted more negative content. When negative posts were removed from accounts, more positive posts followed. The Facebook study offers insight as to why a single, prolific disgruntled employee can be so damaging for a workforce’s morale—and how consistent supportive messages can foster resilience.
When we encounter someone who is extremely agitated or tense, our primitive response will be to match their state of emotional arousal. Conversely, by understanding this autonomic reaction and replacing it with a regulated affective reaction—such as calmness or compassion—we can create a counter-contagion that will influence and reinforce whatever words and behaviors we use to defuse the situation.
Moving beyond the individual, security professionals can use basic knowledge of brain science to elevate the safety literacy of the workforce. Modern workforce safety training generally includes education on the behavioral indicators that can be associated with potential threats of violence: expressions of grievances; dramatic mood, behavioral, or life circumstance changes; signs of substance abuse; preoccupation with weapons or violence; excessive attention-seeking or isolation; and expressions of anger or hopelessness.
Having a knowledgeable workforce is foundational in capturing intelligence on a potential violent actor—provided the workforce is willing to clearly and accurately report behaviors that they witness.
Underreporting. We’re all hardwired for survival, and educating people about behavioral risk factors and risk reporting mechanisms can leverage that instinct, resulting in increases in reporting of threatening behaviors.
One drawback, however, is that this approach can have unintended consequences given its reliance on the reactive sympathetic nervous system (Brain Basic #1). A highly reactive workforce tends to overreact, rendering it more problematic than helpful.
Although we are programmed for survival, humans also appear to be hardwired for altruism. Research shows that infants as young as 6 months demonstrate preferences for those who help others, while avoiding those who don’t.
Working with the C-suite, human resources, legal counsel, and others to create a workplace violence prevention plan that prioritizes intervention instead of discipline—and frames reporting as an altruistic act—is a more productive way to capitalize on human nature.
Inaccurate reporting. Potential violent actors often exhibit multiple behavioral warning signs in the months and even years prior to their attacks. According to The Violence Project, 43.15 percent of mass shooters through 2019 (including those involved in workplace violence, school violence, and public space violence) exhibited one to four behavioral indicators; 37.7 percent exhibited more than five.
Obtaining accurate, objective data on potential behavioral indicators is both critical and challenging. One of the primary reasons for the latter again relates to our primitive survival instinct and what is known as the ambiguity bias.
When faced with ambiguous circumstances, the human mind is biased to draw conclusions that skew toward the negative. This helps the human species survive when, say, we hear a rumbling in a nearby bush and immediately presume that it is a tiger about to eat us rather than a kitten that wants to cuddle. It is less helpful when a member of the workforce witnesses one of the behavioral indicators and makes a biased conclusion. For example, someone sees a colleague sharing photos of their past several weekends at the gun range and reports both the photos and their unfounded theories about the coworker’s malicious intent as facts.
As with any bias, educating the workforce about ambiguity bias is one way to mitigate its impact. Compassionately verifying the account of a well-intended reporter is clearly also imperative.
Intentionally using—and changing—our brains enhances the ways security professionals can keep those we serve secure. Doing so repeatedly leverages the brain’s neuroplasticity and builds new neurocircuitry that wires us to respond rather than react to the situations we face.
Three pounds can make us more effective security professionals and more effective humans.
Recently, it’s felt like hardly a day goes by without hearing of yet another climate protest staged at an art museum.
It began in October, when two women from Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, and has picked up pace ever since. Just this past weekend in Rome, activists with Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) pelted Van Gogh’s The Sower, and at the Prado in Madrid, two people wearing t-shirts reading “Futuro Vegetal” (Plant Future) glued themselves to the frames of two works by Goya.
But as the trend accelerates, museums are wising up to the activists’ tricks.
Guards at the Musée d’Orsay successfully thwarted a woman wearing a Just Stop Oil t-shirt and carrying a water bottle filled with soup on October 27. They disarmed her of her water bottle and she exited the building before any police had to be called to the scene.
The intervention suggested that museum guards were getting better at spotting who in a crowd might strike.
After Monet’s Haystacks was attacked with mashed potatoes on October 22, the Museum Barberini closed for five days while it heightened security measures.
Christina Haak, deputy director-general of the Berlin State Museums, said that her staff have already received extensive training and workshops, since the attacks first started.
Though most museums don’t share details about security matters as a policy, some of the measures being enforced will be immediately obvious to the visiting public.
As of November 4, Berlin museums and the Barberini in Potsdam will require visitors to store all jackets and bags in lockers before entering, with exceptions for medicine and childcare. Previously. bags up to size A4 had been permitted. Now, Haak explained, “we know from the incidents that some of the equipment that people carried in for the attacks was in very small bags.”
Beate Reifenscheid, chair of the International Council of Museums in Germany, speculated that phones and cameras may also eventually need to be confiscated. “The public awareness is mostly spread by the internet and social media.”
Even though the attacks have been concentrated in Western Europe, museums internationally are also starting to pay closer attention.
John Barelli, a security adviser to cultural institutions who was previously chief security officer at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, recalled introducing back checks after 9/11.
“Over a five- or six-year period, vandalism went down because we checked people at the entrances,” he said. “It’s definitely a deterrent. People don’t know how exactly they’re going to get searched so they’ll probably go elsewhere.”
He also suggested having plainclothes officers patrol with a careful eye for would-be attackers. “They usually come in twos and threes and somebody is taking a video. They may have some type of banner… a lot of them are young. Age may be something that they can look at.”
“Institutions should not assume their guards, docents, visitor services staff, and the like are all aware of what is going on and have seen the videos on social media,” said the director of security,at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Anthony Amore. “Rather, they should carefully examine every bit of the modus operandi of the protestors and educate their teams as to what to look for from potential attackers.”
There are also patterns in terms of the type of paintings that have so far been targeted. Many are Impressionist or post-Impressionist, which likely reflects a desire to make headlines by going for universally cherished masterpieces.
Security teams looking to concentrate their efforts could perhaps lower occupancy in certain rooms or put up stronger barriers over specific works.
“A lot of museums do not like to put glass over the painting because it distorts the beauty,” said Barelli.
Most experts did not think it was particularly likely that the attacks would escalate to artworks that aren’t protected by glass.
“They really want to get attention but they don’t want to get in trouble,” Barelli suggested. “It’s not a very serious offence, in the U.S. anyway, if nothing is damaged. If somebody slashed a painting it’d be very serious and they would probably get jail time.”
Other museum officials are far from comforted by this prospect. “As Victoria Reed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, pointed out, the protestors haven’t the technical knowledge to assess whether a painting will be harmed by their actions,” said Amore. “And, of course, the frames—which are also works of art—are susceptible to damage.”
Then there’s the fear of copycat acts of vandalism unconnected to climate protests and not planned in the same way. Some suspect this happened already on October 30, when an assailant who has not so far been linked to any climate group threw fake blood at Clown by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
Most of the experts who spoke to Artnet News agreed that the major institutions that have so far been targeted should be capable of rising to the challenge with their existing resources.
However, “it can be incredibly hard to prevent a determined adversary who wants to cause harm in some way, shape or form,” said Jordan Arnold, global chair of the risk management firm K2’s private client services. “To the extent that security and insurance costs begin to increase across the board, it could deeply impact available funding for other aspects of a museum’s operation.”
“Museums should support and advertise their commitment to renewable energy and adopting green practices,” suggested Frank A. Demes of Security Risk Management Consultants. “Some museums have adopted LEED certification in an effort to save water, reduce greenhouse gasses, improve efficiencies and save money. Progressive and interactive programs can be adopted to shed light on the climate crisis and educate the public.”
Museums are “open, safe spaces”, said Christina Haak. “In order not to turn museums into high-security areas like airports, it’s now important for us to find a balance between security measures that protect our visitors and artworks and preserving museums as places of freedom.”
“Absolute security cannot and never will exist for the objects because otherwise we’d have to put them in storerooms and let nobody in.”
“I’m of the opinion that the international community of museums must now embrace the new role of museums as a site of social protest,” said Haak, by combining the task of preserving and presenting cultural heritage with becoming “lively places of public discourse, but not a protest platform. That’s a challenge, I must say.”
The recent spate of climate protests at museums across Europe have involved cheap tricks that use everyday items like glue, tomato soup and mashed potatoes. But this doesn’t mean they don’t come at a high cost, with some activists in Germany now facing fines.
Just last week mashed potato was thrown at a painting by Claude Monet at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, an incident which is estimated to cost the museum up to five-figures thanks to necessary repairs to the work’s historical frame and the gallery’s adjacent wall.
Its director Ortrud Westheider has announced that he is considering pursuing a claim against the protestors for damages, according to Monopol Magazin.
The founder of the German museum, Hasso Plattner, has decided to close the institution until October 30 in order to evaluate the efficacy of protections currently in place.
On August 23, two climate activists from the German group Letzte Generation (Last Generation) glued their hands to the frame of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna at the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden. While the picture itself was unharmed, the action left behind traces of glue and damaged the patination of the frame in areas where the hands had rested.
The museum had to be closed temporarily, resulting in a loss of income of €7,000 ($7,000), and the work was removed for a restoration treatment that could amount to as much as €5,000 ($5,000).
Presumably hoping to recoup these costs, the Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden or SKD) has filed a complaint with the city’s public prosecutor’s office, citing “damage to property that is harmful to the community” and has initiated civil proceedings for damages.
The two protesters have also been banned from all 15 of the SKD’s museums.
Despite the risk of receiving a fine, attacks like these show no signs of slowing down.
Last week, on October 19, 14 activists from the environmentalist group Scientist Rebellion staged a sit-in protest at Volkswagen’s Autostadt museum in Wolfsburg, gluing themselves to the floor of a Porsche display. The protestors called for a meeting with Volkswagen CEO Oliver Blume and for speed limits of 100 kilometers per hour to be imposed in Germany.
The museum recognized their right to protest so the scientists were not removed by the authorities and instead were left on the premises overnight, only to be cleared from the scene early on Friday morning (October 21). The museum released a statement reporting that the action had resulted in property damage.
“The Autostadt is known as a meeting place for people from all over the world and as a platform for communicative exchange and is always open to factual criticism,”read the statement. “With this basic attitude, we strived for a de-escalation and actively tried to engage in constructive dialogue.”
The museum stated that it had been forced to clear the pavilion when the sitters threatened a hunger strike and their health began to suffer.
On Twitter, Scientist Rebellion stated that “Volkswagen is not keen on too much attention for their climate failure. Quietly, before people arrived at Autostadt, they called in police to remove the peacefully protesting scientists.”
Reposted from AAM
Over the past decade, conversations about accessibility have increased within the museum field, and many organizations including AAM have identified it as a priority. There is not, however, a straightforward and approachable blueprint for increasing accessibility, meaning the museum workers tasked with doing so are often left wondering, “How do I get started?”
Heather Pressman and Danielle Schulz wrote The Art of Access: A Practical Guide for Museum Accessibility to answer this question and support museum practitioners on their accessibility journeys, regardless of the size, budget, or scope of their museum, by providing a range of starting points. Here we share three main guiding principles that every museum, regardless of size or focus, should keep at the forefront. Additionally, we highlight the work of three museums—The Henry Ford, the Intrepid Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art—to shine a light on exciting ways accessibility and inclusion have been integrated into programs and evaluated.
When engaging diverse audiences, simply putting up a welcome sign is not enough. Meaningful inclusion entails opportunities for members of disability communities to advise on and design accessible public programs, exhibitions, and spaces from the very beginning. People with disabilities should be the ones leading the conversation about their own interests and needs, a principle summed up in the expression “nothing about us without us.”
When this is not the case, and outsider perspectives and opinions (however well-meaning) overshadow the conversation, it can perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions that only cause further barriers to access these spaces and programs. To avoid this, museums only need to follow practices they have used with other visitor groups for years, such as organizing advisory committees, focus groups, and community panels. Just as parents can give feedback on the effectiveness of a family gallery game, wheelchair users can identify inaccessible routes within a gallery, or a neurodiverse visitor can inform the ideal location of a quiet space. Be sure to talk to multiple people with disabilities in the process, however—no one person can speak on behalf of everyone.
There is a range of ways to approach this undertaking, depending on the scale of the museum’s needs and resources. On the more time- and resource-intensive (yet higher-return) end is convening an advisory committee that meets anywhere from monthly to quarterly to provide regular input on museum policies, practices, and long-term strategic guidance. An ideal accessibility advisory committee consists of people with diverse experiences and abilities (who are compensated for their time) who can bring to the table both a level of community expertise as well as an interest in being a change agent within the museum. In the middle of the continuum, requiring moderate resources yet yielding a fair amount of impact, is populating already existing advisory committees or focus groups with people from different disability communities, a significant identity group that is often overlooked in recruitment. Finally, on the least intensive end of the continuum is simply asking for feedback, then listening. Create an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) whose sole purpose is to receive questions and concerns about accessibility supports and barriers. Business cards with this address can be printed and stored at your front desk, even carried by staff, for easy and far-reaching distribution to visitors. This should be promoted widely on your website and marketing materials so as to encourage usage, and ideally monitored regularly and by more than one person who can respond to this feedback in a timely, respectful, and honest manner.
Tapping into diverse disability communities as content experts can be extremely helpful to building a better museum. Oftentimes ideas unearthed during feedback sessions or submitted as general inquiries can lead to important learning opportunities for—and changes to—the entire museum.
Sometimes, often unknowingly and with the best of intentions, people use words or phrases in everyday conversations that are ableist, meaning insulting or discriminating to people with disabilities. Very often, ableist words show up in the language museum staff use to speak about people with disabilities and the programs or support materials they use. This can come in the form of euphemisms intended as niceties that are actually patronizing and divisive. For example, this can include describing bathrooms and parking spots as “handicapped” rather than accessible, using overly negative terms like physically or mentally “challenged,” describing people as “suffering from” or “afflicted with” their disabilities, and calling support materials or accommodations “special” items. It can also include using the words “normal” or “regular” to refer to people without disabilities or their experiences and needs. The same goes for avoiding made-up terms that are a substitute for disability, like “differently abled” or “handi-capable.” Disability is not a negative word, and using euphemisms or substitutes only succeeds in reinforcing the stigma around disability as something to be ashamed of. Disability should be valued as an equal, and valued, aspect of the diversity of our visitors.
Avoiding ableist language is sometimes easier said than done, as perceptions of what language is most inclusive are constantly shifting. Five years ago, for instance, person-first language (speaking of the person first and the disability second, e.g. “a person with autism”) was considered best practice, while now identity-first language (describing a person’s identity as closely tied to their disability, e.g. “an autistic person”) has increased in popularity. Museums can maintain inclusive communication by keeping up to date with research and writings by disability and social justice advocates and regularly reviewing any written materials for negative or outdated terminology or euphemisms.
In a museum, accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. Really. Frontline staff need to be prepared to field requests for sensory equipment. IT or digital staff need to ensure the museum website is accessible. Educators need to ensure that every child can participate in a field trip. Evaluators need to meet visitors of all abilities where they are to learn why they are coming to their museum and what they need to be able to engage.
The list goes on, and so does the list of resources necessary to fulfill these tasks: funds to purchase sensory support materials, hire website audit specialists, pay ASL interpreters for focus group facilitation. This is not to say that accessibility must be expensive, but it must be expansive. There are low-cost and free ways to make museums more accessible, which we share more in our book, but this mindset of shared responsibility for accessibility is the bigger takeaway.
Even if you cannot make the case for allocating financial support across a variety of departmental budgets, how can you bring together a cross-departmental group to both discuss the successes and weaknesses of your museum’s accessibility practice and share the expertise and knowledge that abound in your staff? Considering that one in four people have a disability, there are very likely people on your staff who either themselves have a disability or know and love someone who does. How can you harness this shared knowledge and lived experience?
Furthermore, learning from other colleagues and organizations and their unique accessibility journeys can help guide and motivate the work we all do. In this dynamic field where terminology and best practices are constantly shifting and developing, no single person or organization could possibly possess all the information. For that reason, we’ve gathered some examples from across the field of museums doing exceptional accessibility work, and gotten them to share how they’ve done it. We hope hearing about their journeys will help you start yours toward welcoming people with disabilities into your museum in a truly inclusive way.
In 2015, The Henry Ford created its first accessibility-focused position, signaling its commitment to build an intentional accessibility program for its community. As of today, the museum offers about fifty accessible programs per year, including touch tours and virtual verbal description programs for people who are blind or have low vision, sensory-friendly events for people who are on the autism spectrum, and programs for people who are living with dementia and their care partners.
Collecting feedback on these programs was challenging at first. At the sensory-friendly events, for instance, asking attendees to fill out a paper survey before leaving did not lead to much feedback. Attendees were often distracted or in a hurry, and there was no email list for a post-visit survey, as the events were open to anyone without registration. To help get the feedback staff needed, the museum formed an Autism Advisory Group in 2017. This group, which comprises parents and teachers of individuals with autism, as well as several individuals who are themselves on the autism spectrum, shares thoughts and suggestions for sensory-friendly events. Group members have even walked with The Henry Ford staff through several events beforehand to identify potential sensory triggers.
Eventually, the events changed to requiring pre-registration, allowing staff to send pre-visit materials and a post-event survey. This saw a much higher response rate than the paper survey, most likely because attendees could respond on their own time. Over the years, the surveys have asked various open-ended questions: “What were the positives of your visit?” “What could be improved upon for next time?” “What impact does the availability of sensory-friendly offerings have on your family/group?” and “What topics/themes would you like to see in future programs?” Staff have received some heart-warming affirmations, such as, “For many of us parents of children on the spectrum, just having a safe space to let our children be themselves is amazing. … Being at an event that is designed for our children brings a level of comfort we can’t get at ordinary events,” as well as some incredibly valuable feedback they have been putting into action.
The Henry Ford charged admission for the first several sensory-friendly events; however, feedback from both the surveys and the advisory group drove home the importance of keeping tickets at a low cost or free. Not only is affordability an inherent issue for many families, but many also do not know how long their family member(s) with autism will be able to last at an event before needing to leave, meaning the investment in admission can be difficult to justify. As one attendee commented, “The fact that these events are offered at no cost is a game changer. … There is no pressure to ‘get our money’s worth’ and so we can enjoy what my son can tolerate and leave without regrets.” This feedback inspired the museum to apply for a successful IMLS grant, a large portion of which now provides free admission to the sensory-friendly events.
Feedback has changed numerous other aspects of how sensory-friendly events are formatted and implemented, from including start/end times for each activity on visual schedules that are sent in advance, to setting comfortable sound and light levels, to sending reminders to bring a sweater to air-conditioned events, to checking people in on a list for some of the events rather than giving them paper tickets.
Overall, the feedback that The Henry Ford has received on its sensory-friendly programming has been significant to the success of these programs. It has helped ensure that they are meeting their audience’s needs and incorporating their interests. Staff look forward to continuing to use feedback as much as possible to help plan programming in the years to come.
Designing for accessibility can be particularly challenging for historic sites, which have to balance preserving spaces not originally built with accessibility in mind with serving and welcoming the public today.
Centered on a landmarked 1943 aircraft carrier, with collections including a submarine and a Concorde, the Intrepid Museum is full of potential physical and sensory barriers to access. Regardless, when we began our accessibility journey more than ten years ago, it was imperative to start somewhere, deciding on the first step and taking it. We began by considering the institution’s strengths and seeking direct feedback from audiences. For example, when the museum reopened after an extensive renovation, educators began noticing that self-contained classes of students with developmental disabilities were booking guided school programs even though the museum did not have programs specifically designed for them. Through conversations with teachers and colleagues, and, later on, through surveys, educators learned more about the appeal of the museum for these groups and created more customized programs and approaches for these groups. They also began offering free American Sign Language-interpreted (and ASL-led) tours, as well as verbal description and touch tours to both individuals and groups. These initial programs have grown to a robust menu of specialized public and by-request programs, as well as more general inclusive public programs with accessibility baked in.
Accessibility is about more than specialized or inclusive programs, however, and considerations around infrastructure, exhibitions, and customer service have also increased over time. As part of the museum’s renovation, for instance, elevators and lifts were added to a few key areas to reduce (though not fully resolve) barriers to physical access. The exhibits and facilities teams also followed guidelines for auditory and visual accessibility by installing hearing loops in the box office and at audio features around the museum, adding captioning to videos with sound, and following best practices for lighting and for the size, color, contrast, etc. of print labels and signs. Visitor Services and other front-of-house staff also have training sessions throughout the year on welcoming visitors with disabilities, helping to decrease potential attitudinal barriers and to ensure that staff know the choices they can provide visitors.
Evaluation has been essential to each of these steps toward increasing accessibility at the Intrepid Museum. As part of an initial seed grant to develop sensory-friendly programming for children with autism and their families, the museum brought in the non-profit consultant group Autism Friendly Spaces to conduct initial assessments and provide feedback on pilot programs and set up a Parent Advisory Council. The council provided in-depth feedback on planned and past programs and later helped advise on the development of resources for all visitors, such as a general social narrative, a sensory guide and sensory kit, and a specialized maker camp for children with developmental disabilities. Several years ago, we recognized a glaring gap in our council of adult self-advocates, so we started recruiting for them to join as well and renamed the group the Autism Advisory Council.
We also send surveys to program participants, which provide insights from a wider range of people. As the museum moved into creating more physical environments and interactive elements with the hope to be accessible to all, staff began employing prototypes, user testing, and focus groups. When developing a permanent, accessible exhibit about the technology and history of the submarine Growler, for example, they conceived an exhibit element that would let people feel the subtle vibrations of a moving submarine. Partners from the Stevens Institute of Technology helped construct a prototype. User testers were drawn from various groups, including the NYC chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, local advocates of people who are blind or have low vision, and members of the Autism Advisory Council.
More recently, the museum began work with the NYU Ability Project under an IMLS Leadership Grant on developing accessible sensory tools for interpreting historic sites. In this project, NYU and the Intrepid Museum worked with seven historic sites to identify access challenges, prototype solutions and, through the process, develop a toolkit which will be freely shared. Advisors included leadership from Access Smithsonian and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Also enlisted in the process were disability advocates, the majority of whom are also self-advocates, who gave feedback and insights for the historic sites.
As we continue to work toward a more accessible and inclusive museum, our evaluation efforts increasingly engage the self-advocates throughout the process. Building off of the Autism Advisory Council and our work with self-advocates on the sensory tools project and exhibit prototyping, we are pursuing and setting aside funds to compensate user/experts for their time and expertise when sharing more extensive feedback. For example, thanks to support from the FAR Fund, Autism Advisory Council members will receive an honorarium for attending quarterly meetings, in addition to the year of family membership they already receive for meeting the minimum requirements. Similar honoraria will also be provided for other user/experts who participate in in-depth or repeated evaluations of upcoming projects, such as an “Innovation Deck” (maker space) or online mobile guide, at different stages. Likewise, for the museum’s upcoming web redesign project, we are contracting with the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) to provide guidance and feedback throughout the development process, including from their team of web accessibility experts and from their pool of disabled user/experts.
Accessibility work, especially in historic sites, is always a work in progress. At the Intrepid Museum, basic evaluation work helped kickstart our efforts and has only continued to enrich our work as we engage more deeply and regularly with our diverse disability communities.
When the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art began to engage community partners for our d/Deaf* Culture Project, we received feedback that the Nelson-Atkins was a “hearing person’s museum.” While we intend to create an inclusive museum as an institution, our community was nonetheless telling us that they did not feel the space included them.
Funded by a three-year grant from IMLS, The d/Deaf Culture Project is a suite of interrelated products and activities designed to provide quality and accessible programs for visitors who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing (d/DHH). We engaged Garibay Group to conduct a summative evaluation using a culturally responsive approach. Evaluation activities included focus groups, on-site survey intercepts, on-site interview intercepts, and participatory data analysis and feedback sessions. In practical terms, this meant:
Making evaluation accessible was not as easy as consulting a checklist and implementing accommodations. A major part of the work included consulting with experts in d/DHH accommodations. Luckily, as part of the project, we were able to hire a program coordinator who was a member of the local d/Deaf community, Lucy Crabtree. Already established community partnerships were expanded to serve as an advisory panel throughout the project and beyond. By implementing reflective practices, we were able to create several products and activities with the help of our advisory panel. The museum began to use CART captioning for programming, lectures, and webinars. We hired art teachers fluent in ASL and implemented monthly in-person and virtual ASL tours. Products that were adjusted due to partner feedback include filming of ASL vlogs (video blogs featuring staff and community members that introduce visitors to the museum and galleries), ASL video guides (ASL narration of artworks in the museum collection to provide an immersive in-gallery experience), and the creation of a Teacher Advisory Board. Most importantly, we heard from our partners that more emphasis should be placed on the annual Deaf Cultural Festival as a focal point for engagement.
Staff and partners involved in this project needed to recognize our limitations, implicit biases, and knowledge of the subject we were addressing. By prioritizing reflective, sustainable practices and implementing consistent partner-driven analysis activities and products we can shift and change to create a truly collaborative experience for all that can be continued into the future.
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