Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

Jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be the first defendant sentenced in the most extensive federal investigation into Indian arts and crafts fraud.


At a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing held at Santa Fe Indian School on July 7, 2017, William Woody, then Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, called the $250,000 maximum penalty a “pittance” for those who pass off mass-produced imports as Indian made. PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP


High on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern New Mexico, a dusty main road runs through the Pueblo of Zuni. Pull over to the side, and someone in threadbare clothing will soon approach your window holding out a mysterious little box. In Los Angeles, where I live, such an offering could only mean trouble, and you’d be wise to roll up the window and make a quick getaway. But here in the homeland of the Zuni people, it’s safe to take a look. The box is lined with soft cloth, and in it, you’ll find an exquisite creation this person made with his own hands—a travertine animal carving, silver earrings inlaid with the Zuni sun face motif, a corn maiden pendant of carved shell.


The Zuni people rely heavily on hard-won earnings from handmade jewelry and crafts. The tourism department of Zuni Pueblo estimates that 80 percent of working adults there make arts and crafts for sale. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for them to make a living.


Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace works on a piece in her studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they’ve been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory-made goods sold as handmade. But today’s fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.

The insult isn’t just financial. “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history,” says Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace. “All this fake stuff feels like a very deep personal attack.”

But even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in the Southwest has been widely acknowledged for decades—and has ties to organized crime, according to affidavits by federal investigators—only recently has the U.S. government taken any serious action to shut down the major operators. Whether the crackdown has teeth will be tested in New Mexico in April, when Albuquerque jewelry dealer Nael Ali will be sentenced for fraudulently selling imported jewelry as Native American made.

Ali, the owner of several retail stores in Albuquerque’s Old Town district, pleaded guilty on October 18, 2017, to misrepresenting as Native-made jewelry sourced from two family-run networks he said were supplying him with counterfeit jewelry made in the Philippines. These two networks make for the largest Native American art fraud conspiracy ever brought to light.

Ali’s sentencing is the first in the ongoing federal investigation called Operation Al Zuni, which began in March 2012, and is the most extensive ever conducted into Native American art fraud.

The investigation was named Operation Al Zuni after Al Zuni Global Jewelry, a well-known business in Gallup, New Mexico, owned by Nashat Khalaf, a Palestinian immigrant, and prominent Indian art dealer. Al Zuni, which claims to be the “largest wholesaler of Indian jewelry serving the Southwest since 1977,” has its storefront in Gallup but also sells at gem and jewelry trade shows where retailers from all over the country buy inventory.

Misrepresenting arts and crafts, including jewelry, for sale as Native-made when they’re not is a federal crime under a law passed in 1935 called the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The act provides for penalties of up to $250,000 and five years in jail for first-time offenders, but until now it has rarely been enforced. Federal law also requires that “Indian-style” products imported into the United States be permanently marked with the country of origin. That law too has been widely flouted.


 Billboards along Highway 40 in Arizona and New Mexico tout indigenous-made arts and crafts, from pottery and rugs to moccasins and jewelry. PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

It has been estimated that the Native American arts and crafts industry brings in more than a billion in gross sales annually nationwide. And although many would say that not enough profits have ever reached the artists, the sale of handmade jewelry, baskets, pottery, carved figurines, beaded leather, and other crafts provide livelihoods for thousands of indigenous people.

According to federal investigators, the two families running counterfeiting networks are both Palestinian, known to law enforcement as the Sterling Coalition and the Aysheh brothers. The Sterling Coalition, the larger of the two, operates an importing company in Albuquerque called Sterling Islands, which is owned by Nashat Khalaf’s brother, Jawad Khalaf, and niece, Sheda Khalaf.

In affidavits filed in support of 18 search warrants executed in October of 2015, investigators name these and other members of the Khalaf family, and associates, as participants in a scheme to import and fraudulently sell counterfeit Native American jewelry manufactured in a factory in the Philippines called “Fashion Accessories 4 U.” Jawad Khalaf and his son, Nader, have owned the factory since at least 2006. None of the Khalafs has been charged yet.

Albuquerque lawyer John Boyd, who represents Nashat Khalaf and Al Zuni Global Jewelry, calls the allegations against his client “wrong.” The business and its owner, he said in an email, “have supported Native American artisans for decades, maintain good relationships with them and provide the most important outlet in the area for Native Americans to sell their work. Al Zuni and Khalaf deny that they have ever attempted to pass off or have passed off any jewelry as Native American, Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, or any other tribe, when it is not.”

Mark Baker, another Albuquerque lawyer, who represents Jawad Khalaf and Sterling Islands, emailed that his clients “certainly deny that they violated the law or otherwise engaged in any deceitful conduct. This is a family of people known in the community as honest and responsible.”

Law enforcement estimates that Sterling Islands has imported into the U.S. contraband jewelry worth $11,800,000 in wholesale value between October 2010 and October 2015. According to court records, retail buyers and wholesalers would place orders for replicas of particular pieces of genuine jewelry and pick them up at Sterling Islands.

The four Aysheh brothers running the other alleged conspiracy—Imad, Nedal, Iyad, and Raed—were charged in February 2017. Their trial is scheduled for October of this year. None has yet entered a plea.


Zuni jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa uses a flint spark lighter to fire up her torch in preparation for soldering hand-formed bezels to a silver sheet. Later she’ll fit in the tiny stones she’s cut and sanded. PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

In October 2015, when peration Al Zuni went public, 11 jewelry and Indian arts stores were raided in New Mexico and California, including two of Nael Ali’s Albuquerque stores, Gallup 8 and Galleria Azul. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board estimated in 2016 that the retail value of the 350,000 pieces of jewelry seized during the raid exceeded $35 million.

Operation Al Zuni was conducted by the Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and funded through an agreement with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior tasked with developing and promoting arts and crafts as a source of income for American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as with enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.


 In the Pueblo of Zuni, jeweler Roxanne Seoutewa sits in a folding chair at a cramped desk in a well-worn trailer, soldering tiny hand-made bezels to a piece of silver sheet. Into the bezels she’ll fit the seed-like stones she’s cut, sanded, and polished to form the close, stitch-like pattern known as needlepoint and recognized by collectors the world over as one of the classic Zuni styles of handmade jewelry.


This miniature silver canteen, photographed by investigators at Al Zuni Global Jewelry, was sold to an undercover agent as Navajo made on November 24, 2014. Two years before, 20 identical canteens were found in a shipment from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines. PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Compared to artisans trying to sell their work on the street, Seoutewa is doing well. But she has to go farther and farther from home to get a decent price for her work. She doesn’t sell to the local shops in Zuni anymore, or even to the wholesalers 40 miles away in Gallup. The problem, she says, is all the cheaply made foreign imports illegally sold as Zuni handmade.

It was the arrival of the railroads in the Southwest at the turn of the 20th century that set off a roaring business in indigenous art and crafts, and the industry has been a defining presence in the Southwest ever since.

And it was a boom in the tourist industry along Route 66 in the 1960s and 70s that attracted fortune-seekers from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. In 1972 Nashat Khalaf and three of his brothers were among the first to arrive in Gallup, the wholesale center for the arts and crafts produced on nearby Indian reservations. They opened a business selling Zuni jewelry, calling it Al-Zuni Traders. As Khalaf told Al Jazeera years later, he and his brothers had such instant success in the jewelry business that they “called everybody” back home. “It was a bonanza,” he said. “It was a gold rush, and they all came here.” By 2002 several hundred Palestinians had settled in Gallup, most reportedly in the Indian jewelry business.

Today road trippers driving Interstate 40 through Arizona and New Mexico are bombarded with billboards hawking crafts “MADE BY INDIANS.” Much of what’s for sale hasn’t been made by Indians at all. Even Santa Fe, regarded as the heart of the high-end Indian art market with its world-renowned plaza shopping district, is rife with forgeries—so much so that the city recently announced an ordinance to try to rein in the fraud.

Higher-end jewelry knockoffs are copied from one-of-a-kind pieces by master Indian artisans and stamped with initials and symbols to mimic an artist’s hallmark. In stores the fakes are often mixed in with genuine pieces but sold at a discount, forcing jewelers who painstakingly craft each piece by hand to compete with counterfeits produced in sweatshops.


Navajo silversmith Aaron Anderson, of Gallup, New Mexico, holds out a tufa stone negative he’s carved, which serves as both the mold for a belt buckle and a guarantee of authenticity for the buyer.  PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board collects complaints about potential violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, but without a law enforcement bureau of its own, the board must rely on other agencies to investigate complaints. In 1990 a major overhaul of the act increased penalties for violations and gave the FBI primary responsibility for enforcing the law. But the FBI had other priorities, and the bureau generally declined referrals of potential violations from the board, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

By late 2011 when the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to look into fraudulently sold Indian arts and crafts, no jewelry dealers, or large-scale dealers in Indian arts and crafts of any kind, had been charged under the act. On several occasions during the 1990s and 2000s, New Mexico attorneys general sued jewelry stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, including several dealers identified by Operation Al Zuni as selling the Sterling Coalition’s Philippine counterfeits, but their suppliers were never identified. And even though the rampant sale of counterfeits in Arizona and New Mexico has been widely acknowledged for decades, no major counterfeiters had ever been charged.

Yet federal law enforcement had been alerted to at least one potential supplier as early as 1994, when the Arizona law firm Kirkpatrick & Kramer wrote to a Department of the Interior investigator on behalf of Hopi jeweler Jason Takala warning that “an outfit in eastern Gallup, New Mexico named ‘Al Zuni’ is mass-producing copies of original Native American jewelry.”

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later after the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken over enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, that a piece of counterfeit Indian jewelry in a retail store was traced back to the Khalafs.


On November 26, 2012, a Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Russell Stanford walked into Gallery 8, an upscale jewelry shop in Albuquerque owned by Nael Ali. Posing as a jewelry dealer, Stanford bought two rings stamped with the initials CK, which the clerk told him stood for the Navajo artist Calvin Kee, according to court records. (There is no known Navajo jeweler named Calvin Kee.)


Ultraviolet light exposes otherwise invisible markings on a ring sold as Navajo made by Gallery 8, in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico. Special Agent Russell Stanford marked the ring when he intercepted a UPS shipment full of jewelry imported from Fashion Accessories 4 U in the Philippines. PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, AP

Later Stanford looked at the ring under an ultraviolet light and confirmed that it had come from the Khalafs’ factory in the Philippines: There were the dabs of otherwise invisible ink he’d applied to the ring two and a half months before when he intercepted a shipment of jewelry coming in from Fashion Accessories 4 U and bound for Sterling Islands.

In just months Stanford, working as the sole investigator on Operation Al Zuni (a second agent wasn’t added until June 2014) had done what no federal investigator had yet been able to do: substantiate a source for the high-end counterfeits that had been turning up in retail stores for decades.

Less than 30 days later, Gallery 8 was featured in a Christmas shopping guide in the Albuquerque Journal. Nael Ali claimed that he purchased all his jewelry, except for the Polish amber jewelry, directly from Native artists. “There’s no middleman for me,” he said.

Ali, along with Mohammad Manasra, a traveling jewelry seller (who Ali admitted in his plea agreement was indeed his middleman) were arrested in October 2015 in Operation Al Zuni’s initial take-down and became the first jewelry dealers ever to be charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. (The charge against Manasra has been reduced to a misdemeanor, and he isn’t facing incarceration.)

In Nael Ali’s plea agreement, filed October 18, 2017, he admitted that the Philippine-based factories run by the Khalafs and the Aysheh brothers were the sources of counterfeits (some supplied through Mohammad Manasra) that he was fraudulently selling as Native-made at Gallery 8 and at Galleria Azul, another store in Albuquerque. Ali confessed to mixing the knockoff jewelry with genuine Indian-made jewelry and ensuring “that none of the Philippine-made jewelry was marked with its country of origin.”


The ongoing prosecutions against the alleged fraudsters in New Mexico are sending shockwaves through the Indian arts and crafts industry. Nidal Abdeljawad of All Tribes Trading Post, an Indian art store in the Pueblo of Zuni, claims that Nashat Khalaf’s Al Zuni Global Jewelry supplies 90 percent of the retail stores in the U.S. that deal in Native art. “If this guy has to close his shop, it will be a disaster for the Native Americans,” Abdeljawad says.


On the remote Zuni reservation in northwestern New Mexico, an estimated 80 percent of working adults make jewelry, pottery, stone animal carvings, or other arts and crafts for sale to tourists and dealers. PHOTOGRAPH BY MARAYA CORNELL

Other Southwest dealers fear that prosecutions against business owners accused of peddling fakes make for bad publicity and that customers and collectors, concerned about getting ripped off, will avoid shopping for Indian arts and crafts altogether.

Justin Winfield, of Winfield Trading Company, a large buyer of Indian jewelry and crafts located on the highway between Gallup and Zuni, disagrees. Fanning out the thick stack of newspaper articles he’d collected since October 2015, he told me last July that he thought the ongoing prosecutions were already having a “positive impact”—that buyers for retail stores were taking greater care to ensure authenticity.

A few spooked customers in the short-term is a price Winfield is willing to pay if it means curbing the influx of fakes. “It hurts to take the thorn out,” he said. “But after it’s out, you can heal up.”

William Woody, who championed his agency’s investigations into Indian arts and crafts fraud when he was chief of law enforcement at the Fish and Wildlife Service, thinks Operation Al Zuni has “just scratched the surface.” At a Senate field hearing last July—Woody’s final day on the job—he said, “We have not begun to take a comprehensive look into the markets for other Native American items in the Southwest, including pottery, paintings, blankets, etc., where there is likely similar fraudulent activity.”

“In order for things to change,” wrote the editors of the Gallup Independent in October 2017, “the federal government, as well as attorneys general in states like New Mexico and Arizona, must get a lot tougher on these frauds.”

The sentencings of Nael Ali and Mohammad Manasra, who have confessed to knowingly dealing in fakes from both alleged networks, will test how tough New Mexico judges are willing to be. Manasra isn’t facing prison time. But Ali, who pleaded guilty to a felony, faces up to 18 months in prison and could be the first person ever to go to jail for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Prosecutors have requested that the sentencing in Albuquerque of Ali and his co-defendant, Mohammad Manasra, be on the same day in April so that any Native American artisans who wish to be heard by the court won’t have to travel twice.

Maraya Cornell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.

Even plastic art decays, but museum curators are on the case


Even plastic art decays, but museum curators are on the case

Scientists can help them save their polymer-based collections.

Plastic artwork

Plastic person. Pixabay


On its face, art is often about beauty. From Mona Lisa’s demure smile to the blue dapple of Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise,” we flock to museums and galleries in search of the sublime. Museum curators ostensibly choose to dedicate their lives to art for the same reason—a profound desire to be closer to beauty—but they quickly learn something many viewers don’t: That art is more often a story of decay and destruction.

Take Leonardo Da Vinci’s other great work, “The Last Supper.” Painted on the wall of a dining hall in a church in Milan, the mural survived a World War II bombing, the carving of a door through Jesus’s feet, and the more mundane—but dastardly—progression of time. Within just two decades of its completion, poor paint and an uncontrolled climate meant the mural was flaking. After just six decades, “The Last Supper” was described as “ruined,” the Apostles unrecognizable. Multiple restorations, namely one project stretching from 1978 to 1999, have brought back its original luster, but the lesson is there. Much like the humans who make it, art is always on the verge of falling apart.

In the last century, curators and restoration experts have made numerous advancements in the preservation of paintings and sculptures. They keep a hawk-eyed watch over the “The Last Supper,” carefully monitor Michelangelo’s David and his weak ankles, and clean and preserve medieval tapestries like “The Unicorn.” But Katherine Curran, a chemist at the University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage, says it’s only in the last two decades that anyone stopped to consider the preservation of artful plastics.


Last Supper

The way “The Last Supper” looked in 1970. Wikimedia Commons

“There was something, for a while, known as plastics denial syndrome,” Curran says. While artists have relied heavily on plastics since the 1960s (see: Charles Biederman’s pristine plastic and wood sculpture “New York, Number 18” or Naum Gabo’s poorly aged “Construction in Two Spaces: Two Cones,”), Curran says as late as the 1990s, curators “denied they had plastics in their collection.” As a result, many artful plastics started to degrade. “You do get plastic objects in museum collections that have degraded to the point where it’s too late,” she says. Some can no longer be transported without fear they’ll fall apart. Others have decayed to the point of being unidentifiable; an artist may no longer recognize the work they once made.

But, Curran says, plastic denial syndrome finally petered out at the dawn of the 21st century. Now, chemists and curators are in near-constant collaboration, working to preserve the world’s modern and contemporary art collections with methods derived from the field of heritage science. The thing is, no one’s actually certain what the best course of action is.

“Compared with other museum objects, plastics are quite new,” Curran says. While experts have been honing oil paint restoration techniques for centuries, museums are still stumped by plastics. Little is known, Curran says, about how plastics degrade, let alone how to stop it. But perhaps most surprising is the fact that most museums don’t even know the type of plastics in their collection.“Things often get classified as ‘plastic,’” Curran says, “and that’s not that helpful.”

The first step toward preservation, then, is determining what plastics are incorporated in a given piece of art. Cellulose acetate, cellulose nitrate, polyvinyl chloride, and polyurethane foams are often the major causes for concern among heritage scientists, according to Curran.

Cellulose acetate and cellulose nitrate are both central components of the old film. And, unfortunately, they’re both susceptible to vinegar syndrome. When the plastics react with moisture, they produce acids, like vinegar, that degrade the material. Worse still, the vinegar syndrome can spread, as acids move from one decaying film to its neighbor. As a result, improperly stored celluloid-based films can turn brittle and ruddy brown over time.

Polyvinyl chloride, more commonly called PVC, is a supremely functional plastic, making its way into just about everything—it’s used as both an alternative to rubber and as imitation leather, among other things. It’s been transformed by artists into conceptual pieces, too. Artist Wang Jin fashioned an imperial dragon robe out of PVC in 2008. Today, “Dream of China” is under the care of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s in stable condition today, but without proper management the materials in the PVC could leach out, creating dusty puddles of waste and making the sculpture susceptible to cracking.

Like PVC, polyurethane foam is an essential component in arts and crafts, but also wheels and tires, adhesives, and synthetic fibers, some of which end up in museums like the Smithsonian as artifacts with cultural or historical significance. While the material is long-lasting, harsh light can cause it to change color, and moisture can cause foams to crumble.


Vinegar syndrome

A roll of celluloid nitrate film after serious decay. Wikimedia Commons

Once a museum has identified the specific type of plastic its working to preserve, Curran says it’s time to analyze the state of decay. Right now, that often requires a museum curator to eyeball signs of trouble. But in a recent study, published this month in the international edition of the German journal Angewandte Chemie, Curran’s team proposed a radically different method for determining the state of a plastic: Smell.

The scientists placed testing strips at the base of several plastic-based artifacts from London’s Tate museum. Over a period of a few days, the strips absorbed the chemicals in the micro-atmosphere within the art’s storage container. When the strips were removed, Curran’s team used a gas chromatograph to identify and measure the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, emitted by each piece of art. By assessing these plastic vapors, they were able to determine the state of decay for a given artifact. According to the paper, the accuracy of these initial tests was somewhere in the range of 50 to 83 percent.

Curran says her method will need refinement, but it already appears to be an improvement on existing options. “The potential for this is that you could catch these processes at an earlier stage before the damage is so visually problematic that the artifact has lost its significance,” she says. By using an atmospheric strip test instead of a sample, this smell-based test bypasses potentially-damaging samples and keeps the art intact. And understanding the conditions and rate of decay for various plastics could lead to better storage in the first place, too. If Curran can crack the code, then only the most sensitive objects would be put into energy-intensive, climatically-controlled storage, saving museums time, money, and carbon emissions.

While plastic denial syndrome has disappeared in the museum world, it’s reappeared, albeit in slightly altered form, among museum visitors. Most people think that plastics are forever. They know the water bottle they throw out today will still be sitting in a landfill hundreds of years from now, looking much the same way it does right now. But that thinking is fallacious.

Modern synthetic plastics are remarkably durable, but they do decay—whether they’re on display or dropped in a dump. Plastic water bottles don’t sit tight, maintaining their shape. It’s worse than that: They leach chemicals into our waterways and slowly break into bite-sized bits birds can’t resist. They don’t outlast so much as outpace us, turning the ocean into what many call “plastic soup.” Though museums and environmentalists appear to be doing very different work—the first group is trying to prevent natural decay to man-made products, while the second aims to prevent man-made products from destroying nature—both are grappling with the two-faced personality of plastics. Based on Curran’s latest research, one can only imagine how both endeavors must occasionally stink.

Italy’s art police recover works stolen from quake-hit churches

The Local  IT


Italy’s art police recover works stolen from quake-hit churches

Italy's art police recover works stolen from quake-hit churches
Two of the recovered paintings, one stolen from L’Aquila and one stolen from Spoleto, after earthquakes damaged churches in each town. Photo: Carabinieri
An Italian police unit specializing in protecting the country’s cultural heritage on Tuesday presented 37 artworks it had recovered, some of which had been stolen from churches in the aftermath of deadly earthquakes in central Italy.

The artworks dated back to between the 16th and 20th centuries and had been taken in 16 separate robberies over the past two decades.

The pieces have “inestimable historic, artistic, and religious value”, the Art Squad, as the police unit is known, said in a statement.

Among the most important pieces recovered were five altarpieces from two churches in L’Aquila, which were closed due to damage in a deadly 2009 earthquake from which the city is still recovering.

Nicola Candido, one of the officers involved in the operation, told the press “we are particularly proud of the recovery of the altarpieces taken from the earthquake-hit zone”.

You can see some of the rescued pieces in the video below.


L’Aquila’s mayor thanked the police for the recovery and said he hoped the artwork would be returned to the city.

Police found the art in villas along the Amalfi Coast, and have charged three people over the thefts.

The Carabinieri’s Art Squad dubbed the “blue helmets”, was founded in 1969 to combat art and antiquities crimes, and helps train art police in other countries.

In the aftermath of deadly quakes in the central regions of Italy, the officers raced to rescue and restore damaged artworks from churches and other buildings damaged by the tremors.

Young man with an interest in art has pleaded guilty to 46 criminal damage.

The Standard

Andrew Thomson – MARCH 16 2018

A YOUNG man with an interest in art has pleaded guilty to 46 criminal damage charges after a graffiti spree across Warrnambool. Brayden Williams placed on corrections order after graffiti spree


Graffiti has been an ongoing problem in Warrnambool.

 Graffiti has been an ongoing problem in Warrnambool.

Brayden Williams, 20, of Botanic Road, Warrnambool, appeared in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court and was ordered to pay $3608 compensation. He was not convicted, placed on a 12-month community corrections order with conditions he does 120 hours of community work as well as assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, and programs as requested.

Magistrate Cynthia Toose said graffiti was the same as breaking windows.

“People are proud of Warrnambool. It’s a beautiful city. You’ve imposed your graffiti on everyone else,” she said. Williams said he committed the offenses without thinking, but he now regretted it and wished the offending hadn’t happened. Ms. Toose said she wasn’t sure why anyone would be involved in graffiti, which just cost the rest of the community money to clean up.

She said that money could be far better used for sporting facilities or the provision of other public services and facilities. “This sort of offending needs to be publicised. One day someone will be jailed for this. Let this be a very big learning curve for you,” she said. Police executed a search warrant at a Botanic Road home in Warrnambool and found material linked to graffiti tags.

The tags covered power boxes, walls, fences, doors, bus shelters, signs, drains, mailboxes and a bridge between Warrnambool and Dennington. The total damage bill is estimated at being more than $5000 as other tags were not reported to police but have been seen around the city. Since Williams’ arrest, there have been no new similar tags.

Defense counsel Belinda Northey said Williams’ partner had an interest in art that led to his involvement. She described his offending as being a flurry of activity over a confined period. “He thought it was a victimless crime, targeting businesses, and council property,” she said, explaining that Williams now knew better.

Ms. Northey said Williams wanted to pursue his interest in art.

For Puerto Rico’s Art Museums, Hurricane Maria Wreaked Havoc and Revealed Vulnerabilities

For Puerto Rico’s Art Museums, Hurricane Maria Wreaked Havoc and Revealed Vulnerabilities

March 8, 2018; New York Times

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, museum leaders across Puerto Rico did all they could to protect their treasures from the elements, and then from mold and mildew during the extended power outages. As reported last week in the New York Times, “Months later, they seem to have largely succeeded. Most museum buildings were spared heavy damage and, although assessments are still coming in, no widespread or lasting harm to the art has been reported.”

This is not to say all is well: Tens of millions of dollars likely will be needed to repair the damage that was done to the buildings and their grounds, and upgrades and new investments will need to be made to better prepare for future emergencies.

Among the cultural institutions that sustained damage were these:

  • The Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico in San Juan had to “hack big, rectangular vents” into their own gallery walls to create cross-ventilation to fight the high temperatures and humidity until power could be restored.
  • The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, located in Old San Juan, which oversees the National Gallery, the National Archive and 30 other historic buildings and culturally significant parks, sustained an estimated $1.57 million in damages to its Spanish Colonial headquarters building, with nearly all of the 202 doors, window frames, and shutters from the 1840s, as well as wrought iron railings and brickwork, needing to be repaired. Across all of its properties, the Institute’s total insurance claim could exceed $11 million.
  • Two art museums affiliated with the University of Puerto Rico were hurt by the storm: Museo Casa Roig 45 minutes south of San Juan, and the Museum of Art on the Mayagüez campus on the island’s west coast.
  • The Museum of Puerto Rican Art had a broad, curving wall that was clad in copper sheets that were “peeled off” by the storm along with some of the plywood backing. The museum’s sculpture garden was particularly hard hit, with about 90 percent of the landscaping destroyed.

In many instances, the repairs to these spaces will require not just skilled laborers—who are in great demand as all of Puerto Rico continues to rebuild—but specialized artisans who can work on historic properties with “uncommon stone and brick treatments, wrought iron, carved wood, murals, glass works, mosaics and ornamental landscaping.”

Who will pay for all of this work? Almost certainly not the Puerto Rican government, which was already strapped even before Maria. Insurance will cover much of the damage, and federal agencies like FEMA also have stepped in. The National Endowment for the Humanities sent $30,000 each to the Mayagüez museum and to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Smithsonian Institution sent $110,000 to the Museum of Puerto Rican Art. “Foundations, universities and fundraising events around the United States” are also providing funds to help with restoration and even outreach. Northwestern University, for example, contributed $100,000 “to train artists working with the Museum of Contemporary Arts to reach wider audiences.”

Importantly, some of the support being channeled to Puerto Rico’s museums will do more than repair the damage from Maria. It will help the island’s arts leaders become better prepared for the next emergency, with improved processes , nd with generators that many of the institutions do not currently have. Marianne Ramírez Aponte is executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art as well as president of the Association of Puerto Rican Art Museums. She notes that last year’s storm has led this group “to rethink everything about their museums and hurricanes. Many museums did not have emergency operation plans. Some did not have home addresses for staff members. Cellphones and landlines were knocked out. Gasoline and diesel fuel were scarce. The museums became isolated.”

Now, with support from the Smithsonian and FEMA, the museum leaders have begun meeting to consider what lessons they’ve learned that can help them improve emergency preparedness. In addition to new equipment, such as satellite telephones, generators, and extra fuel tanks, the groups have discussed the possibility of “emergency art storage vaults around the island.”

Of course, hurricanes and other natural (and unnatural) disasters can strike anywhere. For museum directors and leaders of other types of cultural institutions, especially those with collections to protect, having a written plan that is periodically reviewed by key staff and board members is a good practice to follow. If your cultural institution does not have such a plan—or has one but hasn’t dusted it off anytime recently—what are you waiting for?—Eileen Cunniffe