July 20, 2013

Report from ARCA in Amelia: Dick Drent on Museum Security and Integrated Risk Management for Cultural Heritage

Le pont d'Argenteuil
by Claude Monet - damaged in 2007 by intruders
by Sophia Kisielewska, ARCA Intern

This past week, our course was taught by Dick Drent, the Corporate Security Manager and former Director of Security at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who led us through the ins and outs of museum security and risk management for cultural heritage. Mr. Drent offered up his vast and unparalleled knowledge from the practical side of art crime detection and prevention -- knowledge he has gained through his eight years heading the security team at the Van Gogh Museum and 25 years working in the field of Law Enforcement in the Netherlands.  We learnt about how, during his time as Security Director at the Van Gogh Museum, he has changed and refined the security procedures of the museum to meet a standard that is truly fitting for the treasure trove that it holds.

Through the week we identified the many threats that face any art institution: theft, vandalism, violent acts, natural disasters, fire, and environmental hazards and learned the practical approaches for protecting against these.  Mr. Drent guided us through the museum security training methods he devised with some of his former colleagues from Dutch law enforcement. He has spent several years promoting this method in museums and galleries around the world and in doing so has become a leading figure in an international movement calling for greater security for cultural property.  The training focuses on the detection of risks upfront in order to minimize actual threats, his mantra being that a museum must have a proactive stance in the protection of its art works rather than a reactive one. This, he emphasizes, need not be reliant on fancy and expensive equipment, rather a shift of attitude from the management level to the floor level on the training of security personnel and museum staff.  This includes training in how to properly observe and recognize deviant behavior and the regular analysis and revaluation of risks to the museum on a daily basis, followed by assessments on the best ways to intervene if such an event were to occur.


The highlight of Dick Drent’s course was undoubtedly the field class that he led in Rome. We rose early on Monday to take a coach bus into the capital where we spent the day surveying some of Rome's greatest collections of Western European art not merely as tourists but through the eyes of a security director. Through a series of group exercises, we gained an understanding of the complexity of securing a museum while keeping the collection available to visitors.


As my classmates talked amongst themselves during the field class, walking among collections, and even on the bus ride back to Amelia, we began to realize the complex field in which a modern-day museum security director works.  His or her job requires them to not only know what is best for their particular museum and their particular collection but to also convey that information to a broad group of interested parties and decision-makers.  It is one thing to talk among colleagues from the security field about what is needed, but it is quite another thing to articulate those same concerns to a museum director, its Board of Trustees, a finance review board, or a museum's curators and conservators.

Having survived a two-week stretch of intensive studying without a pausa, we were treated to a six-day holiday. Most students decided to venture away from Amelia and the chosen destinations ranged from Rome, Sienna, Florence, and Venice to Serbia, Basel, Switzerland, Amsterdam, and Marrakesh.  During the break, many of Europe’s great galleries were visited and no doubt many of us looked vaguely suspicious as we unconsciously carried out security audits of the collections.  During my own trip to Castel S. Angelo in Rome, it became apparent to me that visits to cultural institutions will never be the same again thanks to Dick Drent’s full on and rigorous museum security training.

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