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December 28, 2018

Dick Drent returns to Amelia this summer to teach "risk management and crime prevention in museum security” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, a number of this year’s professors will be interviewed. 

The second in this series is Dick Drent, who teaches ARCA’s “Practical Approaches to Safeguarding Culture: Security Measures and Risk Assessment for Museums and Cultural Heritage Sites” course. Dick Drent was also one of the ARCA trainers in the UNESCO training "Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq" in Lebanon for participants from UNESCO member states in April 2018. 

Dick Drent
I met Dick at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands while he was on his way to Bangkok where he is consulting on the River Museum Bangkok (RMB) project and will be training their staff in proactive security. The RMB will open in July 2019, and will be the first museum in Thailand that will exhibit works from loaned international art collections.

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

My background is based on law enforcement with the Dutch police, where I worked for 25 years, mainly involving international investigations hinging on organised crime. In that capacity I worked for 15 years in the Undercover and Sensitive Operations Unit on counter-terrorism projects and on setting up, running and managing (inter)national infiltration projects. I also worked as the Liaison Officer for the Dutch Police to the UN War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, a tribunal set up in 1992 for the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law set up following the war in what is the former Yugoslavia.

In 2005 I was approached by the Van Gogh Museum to serve as their Director of Security, responsible for dealing with their threat and risk issues as it relates to the museum’s complex physical security as well as it's the museum’s approach to organizational, construction and electronic risk management. Leading up to my hire, these were not sufficient for a museum of this calibre and had resulted in the 2002 burglary of the museum in which two Van Gogh paintings were stolen. So, I was mandated to change and overhaul the museum’s overall security which I did, developing and implementing a new proactive security strategy which effectively assessed risk and minimized the potential of future breaches. Next to that I was pinpointed as chief investigator with the goal of getting the museum's two stolen Van Gogh paintings back. In 2016 after many years of tracing and tracking tips, gathering information, connecting with informants and conducting investigations all over Europe we were ultimately successful.

Press Conference about the recovery of the two stolen Van Gogh paintings
Fourteen years after the robbery, and in close cooperation with Italy’s Guardia Di Finanza of Naples, we were able to recover the paintings at a house connected to one of the bosses of the Camorra organized crime clans in Naples. There, the paintings were seized by law enforcement authorities and when authenticated, were returned to the Van Gogh Museum where they have been restored and are now once again a part of the museum’s collection.

In 2014 I left the Van Gogh Museum to further develop my own business enterprise where I continue to be successful in an advisory and consultancy capacity, a segment of which is specialized on providing security and risk training as it relates to protecting cultural heritage. 

I am also a business associate for two firms where I provide security and risk expertise outside the realm of cultural heritage. There I serve as a project leader for special operations in relation to asset tracing, tracking and recovery of stolen or embezzled goods or money, whether these are artefacts or goods, also looking at financial irregularities relating to large fraud investigations worldwide. 

So my work life was, and still is, very engaged and energizing. I love my work and have never seen it really as work. It is more as the Dutch say: “a hobby grown out of craftsmanship”. As a result, I can count the number of days that I have been unsatisfied with my job on one hand. So never a dull moment the last 42 years of my workable life. 

What do you feel is the most relevant part of your course? 

As it relates to my course with ARCA, aside from creating security awareness in the broadest sense of the word, especially for those participants who have no security experience in their backgrounds, the most relevant part of my course involves a change of mindset. 

This is done by literally letting them climb into the skin of the criminal or terrorist, where they are asked to assume an adversarial role or point of view in order to understand how easy it is to commit an art-related crime. By considering, how they themselves would set about attacking a museum or an archaeological site or infiltrating a private institution with the intent and goal of stealing or destroying something, they are better able to see and understand the site's security vulnerabilities, by simulating a real-world attack to evaluate the effectiveness of a site’s security defences and policies.

What do you hope participants will get out of your course? 

I want them to understand that the protection of cultural heritage doesn’t begin with chasing stolen, falsified, counterfeited, looted, plundered or destroyed art or heritage. I want them to learn that it starts with thinking about threats and threat actors and and risk in advance of an incident and exploring how we can prevent incidents before they happen. By changing from a reactive method of security as we know it, ergo, reacting to incidents after they occur, where, per definition, you are already too late to have prevented it), to a proactive strategy is what is needed for comprehensive security strategies. 

Proactivity involves identifying the hazardous conditions that can give rise to all manner of risk, which we address in a variety of methods, including predictive profiling, red teaming, utilizing security intelligence and other proactive approaches which lead to the actual protection of cultural heritage. 

A second thing I know for sure the participants come away with from my course is that when finished they will have a strong understanding of how security should, or more correctly, has to be an intrinsic part of any organisation. It’s not unusual for those who study under me, to say afterwards that they will never be able to walk into museum again without looking for the security issues at hand and in their head making a survey how easy it would be too…… 

For them, the days of solely enjoying a museum or art will be over. Forever.

Dick Drent with one of the ARCA classes
What would a typical day be like in your classroom? 

A typical lecture day would be an interactive one, where there is a place to discuss opinions, evaluate or change attitudes or approaches, a time to listen and a time to motivate while we study some serious stuff. I sometimes use humour in the process, as it’s a way of capturing and maintaining a participant’s attention while giving and exchanging information so that at the end of the day participants leave my lectures wanting to know even more about security.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class? 

Every course I’ve taught in the last nine years has made me aware that security is not a static thing but very dynamic. And every year I add good things I have gleaned from that year’s participants for use in the course the following year. So, the participants help me improve the course and the output, which is something I value.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants? 

Next to reading everything that is mentioned on the advanced reading lists we provide to participants, I would highly recommend reading the book: Managing the Unexpected (2007) by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. This book discusses the ideas behind the High Reliability Organization (HRO) and it's principles. In my opinion every organization that is involved in the protection of cultural heritage, should be managed as an HRO. Read it and you will find out why.

Dick Drent teaching in Lebanon
What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

Me teaching there, of course. :o) But seriously, the uniqueness of the ARCA program for its participants, and the professional experiences of the lecturers make it exceptional. But also the conference in the middle of the program, in the mediaeval town of Amelia makes this a truly unique opportunity which should not be missed as participants get to meet not only the eleven professors attached to the courses but a host of other experts from around the globe who are working in this sector. Combined this covers everything you ever wanted to know to have a broad comprehensive knowledge base of art crime, in the broadest sense of the word.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

“The High Stakes World of Art Policing, Protection and Investigation” by Dick Ellis. Because, as a former police officer, the approach of this topic by Dick Ellis is very intriguing. Especially exploring the ways and possibilities of utilizing police investigative findings and prosecutorial decisions as a door opener to convince the “holder” of art that is stolen, lost, disappeared or on another illegal way in his or her possession, that it would be better to give it back to its rightful owners.

Dick Ellis
Dick Ellis is, like me a retired cop, more than that, he is the founder of The Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiquities Squad at New Scotland Yard who now has a vibrant private practice recovering stolen artworks.  He has been responsible for a range of recoveries of famous works of art all over the world and is the director of the Art Management Group which he co-founded in 2005. 

He served in Special Operations at New Scotland Yard where he founded and ran the Art & Antiques Squad until 1999 when he left the police to become General Manager of Christie’s Fine Art Security Services. In 2000 he became Managing Director of Trace recovery services running a database and magazine for stolen art and antiques. Recoveries include Munch’s The Scream, Beit Collection paintings, Audubon’s Birds of America stolen from Russia’s State Library and over 7,000 antiquities looted from China and Egypt. Since 2008 he has been an Expert Advisor to Government on International Loans to Museums.

Is there anything you can recommend about the program or about it being in Amelia or Umbria? 

An added value to your investment in following this program in Amelia is the opportunity to develop one’s network with other participants and with all the professors and lectures who come to Umbria because of ARCA and the ARCA conference. This sometimes isn’t obvious in the beginning, but I am still in contact with a lot of the participants and presenters from the previous year’s courses and conferences and have also been able to connect them to other people in my network long after the summer is over. So, for a future career, even it is not clear yet what or how that career will look, this program offers opportunities too good not to make use of.!

Tip: Print business cards to give to the people you contact and ask for theirs. Make them notice you, by your questions and drive to learn.

Dick Drent discussing proactive security at a conference at the Smithsonian
Regarding Amelia, Umbria and of course Italy as a whole, there are not enough words even to begin to explain why someone should travel around in this big playground where every stone represents a part of history. Not to mention the beautiful food, wines and various dishes they serve in all the different regions and the friendship you can experience if you are really interested in the people and the country. It’s worth soaking up and living it!

Are there any funny or interesting things you have experienced in Italy, outside of class? 

I always plan sometime before or after the course to lengthen my stay and not only in Amelia but also to see other parts of Italy, this in relation to the things mentioned above. For me and my wife Petra, ARCA and its people have become family, or at least very good friends. The drive and energy we get out of our stay there lasts us through the autumn. Maybe not necessarily funny but still a fact about what Italy can do with you and for you when you know the right people and when you are open to it. 

One of the festivals in Amelia...
What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

Throughout the years that the Amelia Conference has taken place, I have watched it become more and more focused and specialized. The number of attendees has also grown from 40-50 at its start to well over 100-120 attendees, even without using publishing or marketing tools. That is what a conference should be about, interesting topics, good speakers, interesting discussions and the opportunity to network and get to know people. Due to my work, I am not always able to attend every year and feel this as a missed opportunity to grow and to extend my knowledge and network. For the participants it is very important to be there and to connect with the people that could be interesting for their line of work or career or just because it is good to meet interesting people. This applies also the other way around. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the participants during this coming 2019 program!


For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at  

Edgar Tijhuis at the ARCA Library
Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.