BYU beefs up security in light of recent art thefts


    By Amber Callister

    Stealing precious artwork may seem like an event only seen in Hollywood blockbuster hits, but art theft is becoming more common.

    “You can understand motives in robbing a bank,” said Christopher Wilson marketing and communications manager of the BYU Museum of Art. “But the problem with robbing art is what do you do with it? You could sell it on the black market, but it”s probably a lot harder to just turn around and try to get money out of it.”

    This summer, Edvard Munch”s masterpiece ”The Scream” was stolen. Thieves armed with guns simply walked in and stole the artwork out of a lightly guarded museum in Norway. Police had no chance of catching the thieves because in Norway, police officers don”t carry weapons.

    In order to protect against events such as those last summer, the BYU Museum of Art looked at their security systems to make sure proper protection for their artwork is in place.

    The Museum of Art has never had any direct experience with theft.

    “We are in a unique situation being in Provo,” Wilson said. “There are high values and low crime, and people follow ethical principles.”

    But this was not always the case.

    Before the Museum of Art was built, BYU”s artwork was stored and displayed in the Harris Fine Arts Center. Over a period of twenty years, several pieces of artwork were stolen from the building. Lieutenant Lemmon of BYU police was a detective throughout the course of the theft. He said the theft amounted to millions of dollars and only 5 percent of the work was recovered. Lieutenant Lemmon said in order to take future precautions against art theft, The Museum of Art was built with an advanced security system.

    David Byrne, the director of security for the Museum of Art, said their security system in place is sufficient for the museum.

    “We have motion and perimeter alarms tied to University police … and the response time is about two minutes,” Byrne said.

    Byrne also said there are 45 cameras in the museum, and whenever someone is in the museum even for janitorial purposes, security guards are there.

    Wilson said after hearing the events that happened during the summer in Norway, those in the museum made sure security was up to date.

    “It reminds us to look at our security and reevaluate it, and make sure that it is secure,” Wilson said.

    The most recent security procedure is checking backpacks as students enter the museum.

    “It”s a security procedure to protect the art and the artifacts,” Byrne said. “It protects against bumping into the paintings and scratching them. We had two incidents where paintings were damaged, so we implemented the backpack policy.”

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