By Wilbur Faulk
For the nations of eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union, the transition from closed to more open societies has not come without a price. While increased economic freedom is creating greater opportunity and more goods, it is also producing economic dislocation and unemployment. New political freedom has engendered not only real public debate and political organizations but also, in places, social disruption and instability.
Among the groups most buffeted by rapidly changing political, economic, and social forces are those responsible for the cultural institutions of the region. Change is having a devastating effect on the integrity and security of their museums and libraries. Where once every adult was virtually guaranteed a job, human and financial resources are now tightly constrained. The consequence for cultural institutions is fewer staff members, the bulk of whom are inconsistently and minimally paid.
Change has left the door open for opportunists. National borders are open, and the controls on the passage of artifacts from one country to the next have decreased. Unfortunately, the dissolution of authoritarian regimes has, for the moment, emboldened those engaged in crime. For example, according to Protecting Cultural Objects, published by the Getty Information Institute, the Czech Republic is thought to be losing about 10 percent of its national patrimony every year to thieves and smugglers; in 1993 art thefts from museums, castles, churches, and exhibition halls alone numbered 1,068 objects. Art theft, in fact, is second only to drug trafficking in international crime. From eastern Europe increasing numbers of objects are being stolen and transported easily across multiple borders, often to western Europe and North America. These unfortunate developments are challenging international organizations to find new ways of supporting national efforts to recognize a theft quickly and to disseminate information effectively to assist in an object's recovery.
In the last several years, I have visited cultural institutions in several eastern European countries with the International Committee on Museum Security (ICMS) of the International Council on Museums (ICOM). These trips—and my work with the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation, established through the efforts of the Getty Conservation Institute—have given me a privileged look into the security challenges facing many cultural institutions.
Each year ICMS is invited to a city rich in cultural history and significance (recent host cities include Warsaw, Tallinn in Estonia, St. Petersburg, and Budapest). During the annual ICMS conference, participants select a prominent institution within the host city for a security audit. These intensive, multiday efforts focus on low-cost, easily implemented solutions—a reflection of current political and economic constraints. The audits often result in extensive sharing of information and close collaboration between the host institution and ICMS members.
The GCI, recognizing the cultural wealth of St. Petersburg and the surrounding region, spearheaded the creation of the International Center for Preservation. (See The St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation.) The first seminar sponsored by the Center was in March 1996. The topic was security—a choice reflecting the needs of the local cultural community as well as the shared belief that security is a natural and essential extension of preventive conservation.
Months before the seminar, those of us involved in organizing the program spent time visiting with the directors, deputy directors, and security heads of the participating institutions—the State Hermitage Museum, the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian National Library, the State Russian Historical Archives, the State Russian Museum, and the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg (located at the Peter and Paul Fortress). From our discussions, two major topics emerged, forming the basis of the seminar's curriculum. Perhaps most important was prevention of theft through a variety of means, including well-trained personnel and clear, enforced policies and procedures supported by technical security systems. The second essential concern was emergency preparedness, with an emphasis on fire detection, prevention, and suppression and organized response to natural and human-caused disasters.
Limiting workshop participants to just 15 people facilitated meaningful participation and exchange. Discussions focused on shared interests that became apparent during preworkshop visits. By establishing an open and collaborative setting, we found that these knowledgeable, committed professionals were able to share experiences, develop mutual trust, and focus on problem solving in a way that benefited each attendee.
Evident throughout the seminar was the eagerness of participants to investigate and initiate change to secure their collections. Some changes are already under way. A number of Russian institutions have begun long-term efforts to document their collections as part of collections-management strategies; these undertakings are critical in determining what is being lost through theft and providing law enforcement with information that can aid in an object's recovery. Several institutions, among them the State Russian Museum and the Hermitage, are instituting basic training in areas such as alarm response to both fire and theft. At the same time, they recognize that a professionally trained security staff is the ultimate objective. There was considerable exploration of options for security staffing during the St. Petersburg seminar. Some institutions, like the Hermitage, are considering engaging private security services. Other options include using in-house staff or local police.
A primary objective of the seminar was to encourage the growing relationships between these Russian institutions and international professional organizations like ICMS and Interpol. Equally important was the goal of continuing interaction among the participants—interaction that would last beyond the seminar. This, in fact, has been achieved. Those who attended the workshop continue to meet each month to share ideas on solutions to common problems. And early in 1997 the group will gather again under the auspices of the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation for a follow-up seminar on security.
Western cultural institutions and their counterparts in Russia and eastern Europe face a number of similar internal challenges: balancing the security of a collection with ensuring its accessibility to visitors; wrestling with appropriate allocation of resources; hiring, training, and retaining competent security personnel (whose compensation tends to be at the lower range of institutional pay scales); determining what types of technical systems are needed; and finding reliable manufacturers to install and maintain those technical systems.
However, Russian and eastern European institutions face additional challenges—not least of all managing the changes inherent in political transformation and diminished government resources. Their cultural heritage is critically important to them, yet there are no simple solutions to the complex issues they face in protecting cultural properties. A goal of both the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation and the ICMS is to move toward short-term, achievable objectives that can become building blocks in the search for longer-term standards and consistency. Collaboration has increased the depth of communication across borders and broadened trust. Indeed, the opportunity to work with colleagues in the preservation of an important part of the world's cultural heritage is one that holds the promise of being a richly satisfying experience for all involved.
Wilbur Faulk is director of security for the J. Paul Getty Trust.
St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation
Security Seminar I
Mr. Oleg Boev, director of security, Hermitage Museum
Mr. Wilbur Faulk, director of security, J. Paul Getty Trust
Mr. J. Andrew Wilson, assistant director of security, Smithsonian Institution
State Hermitage Museum
Mr. Baturin, deputy director
Mr. Oleg Boev, director of security
Ms. Galina V. Blinova, associate director of fire prevention
State Russian Museum
Mr. Vladimir Gusev, director
Mr. Ivan Karlov, director of conservation and restoration
Ms. Irina Kuznetsova, director of security
Russian National Library
Mr. Vladimir Zaitsev, director
Ms. Elena Nebogatikova, deputy director
Mr. Anton Likhomanov, director of security and administration
Mr. Benjamin Turchin, head of security services
Russian Academy of Sciences
Academician Zhores Alferov, vice president
Dr. Valeri Leonov, director, Library
Ms. Irina Belyeava, deputy director of science, Library
Mr. Vladimir Zhuraparov, deputy director of security, Library
Mr. Konstantin Salnikov, deputy director of Pushkin House
State Russian Historical Archives
Dr. Vladimir Lapin, director
Mr. Leonid Matveichev, deputy director of security
Ms. Olga Anosova, deputy director for documents conservation
State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg
Ms. Natalia Dementieva, director
Mr. Alexander Ahutko, director of security
Mr. Vasilly Pankratov, director of international relations
Mr. Boris Nazartsev, chief conservator
Committee for Culture, City of St. Petersburg
Dr. Vladimir P. Yakovlev, deputy mayor for culture
Mr. Sergei Basov, director
Getty Conservation Institute
Ms. Jane Slate Siena, head of institutional relations
Ministry of Science, Education, and Culture, the Netherlands
Dr. M. Kirby Talley Jr., executive counselor
St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation
Ms. Tatyana Alexandrova, seminar coordinator
and executive assistant