Protecting invaluable art during civil unrest

While most of the protests and marches were peaceful, civil unrest sparked looting and property damage in cities like New York City.

Although most public gathering places such as museums have been closed since March due to precautionary measures spaced by the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest represents a unique safety concern for those tasked with protecting the city’s priceless art.

According to city data, there are 130 museums in the museums of five New York City cities, including some famous museums that house works by world-renowned artists.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night sits not far from Lake Claude Monet with a water lily in the hallways of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa). The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Art Museum are home to paintings by Pablo Picasso and other priceless collections.

And for many, museums are a cultural haven.

“It’s not too late yet, but you have to have a plan”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is visited by more than 7 million visitors a year.

“Many people in the city consider museums safe places to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics. Art is sometimes a bridge to that,” Marianne Lamonaca told CNN.

Lamonaca is an associate director of the gallery and chief curator at the Graduate Center Bard in New York City and chairman of the board of the Association of Curators of Art Museums.

Cultural institutions must have a plan and coordinate with local agencies, including the federal police, to plan possible emergencies, art conservation expert Stevan Layne told CNN.

Layne, the founder of the International Foundation for the Protection of Cultural Property, is one of the security experts working with cultural institutions across the country whose leaders are trying to protect their invaluable but currently empty institutions.

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“We say it’s not too late, but you have to have a plan. The police are overwhelmed, I can’t be everywhere. I can’t handle everything,” he said.

Most larger institutions have secure storage facilities often elsewhere entirely to protect the most valuable works, Layne said. Now the IFCPP is warning museums to remove the exhibits from the main floor because in the event of a burglary, it would probably be the most serious.

At least one museum in the city, the Whitney Museum of American Art, boarded their floor-to-ceiling windows.

Layne says he tells his colleagues to take these precautions if they can, but the costs are high. And for institutions that rely on daily ticket revenue, they probably can’t afford the funds because of coronavirus-related losses.

Discussion of controversial cultural installations

Controversial cultural installations in museums and public spaces have been at the center of debate in recent years.

“It’s really always been a question, what to do with monuments that insult certain groups. This is no more different today than it was in Charlottesville in 2017,” said Margaret Holben Ellis, president and associate of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) CNN.

Conservators are the ones who maintain cultural heritage objects, but also repair them when they are damaged.

Some conservators have recently faced harassment over repairing damaged installations, Holben Ellis told CNN.

“We have received reports that conservators feel threatened or threatened in the performance of their professional duties to protect and preserve cultural heritage. We must keep our members, as well as monuments, protected from harm and harassment. The professionalism needed to make decisions also takes emotional compensation for conservatives who must remain neutral while performing their duties, ”Holben Ellis said.

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Conservatives operate under a code of ethics to preserve all cultural heritage, George Wheeler, an assistant professor of historical conservation at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN.

Conservatives and directors could consider holding back on repairing installations in public places as protests continue at night, Wheeler suggests.

These controversial statues were removed after protests over the death of George Floyd

“These things can be taken care of, but how and when do we deal with these issues.”

Wheeler warns of the hasty removal of public installations and monuments as politicians in some cities have done.

“A decision can affect the safety of conservators, affect perception by society, and those particular decisions may not be easily overturned,” Wheeler said.

“Consciously destroying a monument because of its symbolism is also an option. It’s an extreme in the spectrum of preservation – from preserving something exactly as it is forever to destruction,” Wheeler said.

How we use our voices

Both Matt and Whitney declined to comment on security protocols, but they and several other New York museums posted on their social media pages condemning George Floyd’s death in solidarity with the protesters.

The Guggenheim Museum promotes the work of African-American artists who have dealt with racial discrimination in their work.

The city’s public design committee posted a similar thing on Twitter promoting black artists.

MoMa has published an incomplete list of resources and organizations to combat racism and support justice and equality.

“I would think museums at this time want to speed up and communicate,” Lamonaca told CNN.

The question for curators, says Lamonaca, is “how do we use our voice, our position in the community to bring people together and have meaningful conversations with difficult topics.”

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