Skip to content
View of dining bridge at dusk. Photo by Dero Sanford, courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.??

IFCPP Symposium Focuses on Collaboration

?How do you work with museum staff to create an engaging and safe environment at your museum? When a massive hurricane is headed your way, how do you evacuate staff and keep your priceless art collection safe?�

These were just some of the questions that were asked last week at theInternational Foundation for Cultural Property Protection�s (IFCPP) 16th Annual Symposium. The event�which began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at thePhilbrook Museum of Art�before moving toCrystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas�brought together security executives from museums across the nation to learn about new trends in museum security and to network.

I attended the symposium for Security Management to learn more about what�s going on in the cultural property protection world. Below are some of my key takeaways.

1. Collaborate! Collaborate! Collaborate!�

More and more, security is moving away from operating as a silo and into collaborating with other departments within their overall organization�and the cultural property sector is no exception. Throughout the symposium, museum security directors spoke about how they�re working with�or at least attempting to work with�curatorial staff and engagement officers to better plan for exhibitions, special events, and more.

Geoff Goodrich, director of security for Crystal Bridges, and Niki Ciccotelli Stewart, chief engagement officer for Crystal Bridges, spoke about the process they�re using to better collaborate to enhance the guest experience at their museum while maintaining a secure environment.�

For instance, Stewart attends weekly meetings with Goodrich�s staff to discuss what security officers are noticing in the galleries and to let them raise their concerns to her directly. After hearing a concern, such as an improper spelling on a painting�s label, Stewart will�if necessary�address the concern and then report back to the person who raised it when it�s remedied. This allows the museum to take a proactive approach to addressing problems and it makes security officers feel appreciated by and involved with other departments in the museum.

And this collaboration doesn�t stop at the museum�s doors. It also includes the Bentonville fire and police departments, which regularly train at Crystal Bridges to ensure that if a fire should break out or a medical emergency occur, they can appropriately respond. This is especially critical as the museum sits at the bottom of an Ozark ravine, making it challenging for first responders to get to, Goodrich explained.

Some key steps to make response easier include doing regular walk-throughs with both departments so personnel know the layout of the museum, installing special material underneath the grass on one side of the museum so fire trucks can be driven on the lawn without getting stuck, and conducting regular training on evacuations from some of the most difficult to reach parts of the museum, Goodrich added.

2. Customer service is key.�

In my July feature�Artful Engagement� for Security Management, I focused on the new customer-service-oriented approach that the Art Institute of Chicago is taking with its security staff as typically the only interaction guests will have at a museum is with a security officer.�At IFCPP, numerous other museum security directors made this same observation and said that because of this, they�re taking steps to make customer service a priority for their staff.

For some, this has led to new training to teach officers about the museum�s collection so they can better answer visitors� questions. For others, such as Crystal Bridges, it has impacted hiring practices; Goodrich said that during the hiring process he�s looking for candidates that are friendly and happy.�

�I can teach people about security. I can�t teach people to be happy,� he added.

3. Facilities staff are your friends; water problems are not.�

Besides keeping visitors safe, the biggest day-to-day challenge his museum faces is climate control and humidity, said Bill Powers, director of facilities at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. And he�s not alone as almost every other symposium attendee had a horror story to tell about maintaining climate control in their facility and preventing water damage to the collection.

To combat this, many attendees said they�re adopting methods to better monitor if pipes in the facility are near freezing, and training staff on how to manually turn off water if there�s a leak or a burst pipe in the building instead of waiting until a facilities staff member or plumber can get to the facility to mitigate the problem.

For instance,Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza Operations Manager Steve Worden described a situation where a water leak caused flooding in the building, threatening the museum and its collection. Because staff responded to the problem quickly and began immediately removing the water that was gushing onto the floor, they were able to prevent catastrophic damage to the collection.

4. More disaster response planning is needed. �

While many institutions have plans for how to evacuate people from their gallery spaces should the fire alarm go off, fewer have plans for how to save their collections should a major natural disaster, such as a hurricane, be headed their way.�

Amy Marino, senior program officer in theOffice of the Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support ?at the Smithsonian, updated attendees about what the Smithsonian is doing internationally to help cultural institutions recover from major disasters or protect their collections from terrorist groups.�

For instance, the Smithsonian�s been actively engaged in training museum staff in the Middle East on how to protect their collections from ISIS, which has ruthlessly destroyed thousands of pieces of cultural property over the last year. The Smithsonian has also assisted in the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal, aiding communities there as they attempt to recover from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the nation in April.

However, she stressed that domestic museums also need to focus on disaster response planning and make sure they have plans in place should a hurricane, flood, or earthquake occur. As part of this process, she raised the idea of creating a domestic network of cultural property security executives who would come to the aid of institutions that were impacted by a disaster. Attendees seemed interested by the idea and in creating a coalition or certification process that would allow members of the network to have a credential certifying that they were trustworthy and capable of assisting during a disaster.

Steve Layne, CPP, founding director of the IFCPP and CEO of Layne Consultants International, also broke down some of the basic steps that museum security directors need to be taking when it comes to disaster response. For instance, having contracts in place to secure building materials like plywood and to move collections. If a major disaster strikes, like a hurricane, thousands of people may need these same services and without contracts in place, Layne said you�re not likely to get the help you need when you need it.