September 30, 2014

International Committee on Museum Security, Copenhagen, Denmark: Conference celebrates the ruby anniversary in a royal city

SMK (national gallery of Denmark)
by Penelope Abram, alumna of ARCA 2013

The Danish capitol of Copenhagen welcomed a lively crowd for the 40th Annual International Committee on Museum Security. Greeted with smiling faces and sunny weather, was the landmark National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst). Security professionals from many countries and established institutions were represented as presenters and participants. The theme for this milestone year was “Implementing and maintaining security and safety at cultural institutions with fewer or limited financial resources today and in the future”. My ARCA thesis, written for the 2013 year, fit right into the theme of making security cost effective and highly capable. I presented on my thesis of museum security, which was a theoretical plan for the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. I designed an organizational method for security while combining inventory and time management based on my previous retail experience and on the Everson’s methods currently in place.

The first speaker enlightened us with a “Year in Review”. He remarked on just a glimpse of the thefts, damages, and general misfortunes that struck cultural institutions in the past year. He commented and observed some trends and using graphs and statistics, he revealed how these change drastically, or minimally, within a year’s time. This led to a great conversation on how something as seemingly banal as flood damage could pose a tremendous risk to cultural heritage.

A Business Director of a Museum in the Netherlands gave a presentation that was as suspenseful as an action movie. In early 2014, a large bushfire was ablaze in the countryside, which threatened the museum if it continued to spread. While rapidly approaching, the plan of action was to protect everything in the museum, which led to a system that was currently in place to secure as many art pieces as possible in the vault before the fire reaches their doorstep. Not to keep anyone in suspense, everything was kept perfectly safe and the fire never burned through the museum’s immediate campus.

View from the lawn of the Louisiana museum
During the course of the conference, a panel discussed some of the ingenious ways to save an institution’s security team time, money and personnel. LJ Hartman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City discussed the implications of being open one more day and how to calculate security personnel in a much more organized and balanced way. Vernon Rapley of the Victoria and Albert Museum discussed how his Museum uses gallery staff on a temporary or on-call basis. Although this is considered controversial in the UK, his use of “zero hour workers” to enhance the security team for certain events, exhibits and occasions, seems to be an inventive way to keep up with the ebb and flow of visitors.

A large part of the conference was exploring the security dilemmas of local Copenhagen museums. I was assigned the National Museum of Denmark and as a student of ARCA I was reminded instantly of our security audit we conducted. Although in Italy, we were students with basic knowledge, in Denmark, I was surrounded by professionals from all different fields examining and asking relevant questions, all using their well-honed skills and points-of-view. The expertise of our host Security Director, Rune Hernoe was impressive and admirable, and the group collaboration taught me further the hands-on world of museum security.

New security methods were on demonstration a couple times that week and to see ways to prevent thefts, damage and catastrophes, was sometimes a stimulating display. Watching a flame go from ablaze to absent with just a unique combination of gases was quite spectacular, while seeing technologically advanced cameras was informative.

A highlight of the conference was to get an insider’s tour of some of the best art museums and castles Denmark has to offer. Seeing the crown jewels in the Rosenborg Castle, touring a genuinely unmodified Victorian apartment owned by the National Museum, walking through the modern and contemporary art exhibits of the SMK and ARKEN, and taking in the view of the ocean while on the lawn of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art were my personal favorites.

From the first day to the last, the willingness to share ideas and strengths was motivating as a young professional like myself to witness. Just listening to some of the conversations over coffee breaks it is apparent that these security professionals value working together. Hearing how investigating problems and solving solutions while trading stories over dinner reminds me how much museum security is a team effort rather than a solo trial. Last summer, while in Dick Drent’s Museum Security course during the ARCA program, I changed my perception of the museum world, and attending this conference only added and enhanced that outlook. Having him there to watch me present, the thesis that he inspired, was another bonus of this event.

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