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Agents of Deterioration: Thieves and Vandals

Today’s agent is: Thieves and Vandals!

Most of the other agents of deterioration are based on things like natural elements, nature and the atmosphere, but this one is purely based on human interaction, theft and destruction of cultural heritage.

Security is something that is extremely important for cultural heritage institutions or collections storage facilities because people are horrible and think that stealing art will make them a lot of money or vandalizing an artefact is funny. Ugh I just don’t understand some people, you know?

Let’s define these two Ne'er-do-wells quickly so we’re all on the same page:

Theft is the premeditated taking of an object by illegal means. And I know we all think of museum heists as they amazing Thomas Crown Affair or Ocean’s 8 productions, but in reality, most museum thefts are done at the spur of the moment- someone taking carpe diem to the next level, taking advantage of a situation and trying to make a run for it. We don’t hear about too many museum thefts, but not all of them are reported or make front-page news.

Vandalism is also a premeditated act where damage is done to an object. This could range from disfigurement to complete and total destruction. With museums, again most of these acts are opportunistic with some kid wanting to write their name on a statue or something. Of course, as history shows there are some people who have organized and planned out acts of vandalism for protest or political reasons. A lot of vandalism can also happen due to religious intolerance or racism.

So, how can museums and other cultural institutions protect themselves from these things? Lots of ways.

The first thing is to determine what assets you want to protect. In an ideal world, every object would be granted the same amount of security and protection. But due to budgets, space constrictions and things like that, the most valuable objects are given the greatest attention. And we can go in to what makes one piece of art more valuable than another, but I feel like that debate is better left to another video or discussion. But this is something you need to consider when looking at a collection because people that are looking to steal or vandalise are most likely going to try and go for the big cahunas instead of smaller fish that aren’t as valuable.

From there, you then need to determine what measures you can implement to deter and prevent these crimes. For example, you could implement security zoning, where you design your space into a series of zones with various security levels so it’s easier to handle. For example, you have your public zones like your lobby, cafeteria and parking where anyone can come in. From there you have security zones like the staff entrances and workspaces. Then you’ve got higher security zones like conservation labs, photo studios and records. And finally you have the highest security areas like the server room and the collection storage.

Different people have varying levels of access to each of these zones, making it more manageable and that way you know who can go in and out of these high-security areas by limiting access to the people who actually need to go into these zones and work there.

With all crimes, you want to make sure you can detect them as quickly as possible. This mean putting in a lot of different security measures. The biggest things are of course security cameras so you can have eyes on all areas of the building to monitor if anything is happening or about to happen.

Motion detectors and trip switched on doors and windows are good for if someone is trying to sneak in. And, having actual security staff is super important because just the visual presence of someone can be a big deterrent for would-be thieves and vandals. If you’re being watched, you’re less likely to do something in comparison to when no one is there, right?

If anybody does try something, quick response is super important because you have a greater chance of stopping the theft or vandalism while it’s happening, or at least catching the person soon afterwards.

Documentation is super important if anything does happen, and of course you have to call the police and report it!

Now I just need to put this out there as like a public service announcement and to cover all my bases. Do. Not. Steal Art! Do. Not. Vandalize Art! Doing this stuff will get you nowhere. Stealing art is not a get rich quick scheme because they’re all high value pieces and are super difficult to sell because everyone will be looking for them. Also- just don’t steal art because doing that is bad! It is illegal! This goes for looting archaeological sites, digging around to see if you can find anything, or just picking something up that you find on the ground while you’re visiting an historic area. It’s not fun. Rocks from the Hadrian’s Wall are not souvenirs!

And while we’re at it, don’t vandalize art or historic buildings. You may think it’s cool to write mark and Julia 4eva on a stone surface but guess what, you and Julia are probably gonna break up anyways and now you’ve gone and done something incredibly stupid and put a regrettable tattoo on a stone wall. No one wants to know that you ‘were here’ in 2004 either. ALSO if you’re angry with someone or at something, please don’t take it out on the art. It never did anything to you. And don’t think I won’t catch you either! This trench coat gives me special powers.

There you have it, friends Thieves and Vandals, and agent of deterioration carried out by people who don’t respect cultural heritage.

There’s a lot more detail that I could do in to, but that’s all written down for you on the CCI website, which you can visit here.

Have a question? Email me!


Canadian Conservation Institute: 10 Agents of Deteriorarion -Thieves and Vandals- David Tremain


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