This post by artist Heather Miller originally appeared on her blog at Whiterose’s Blog and is reprinted by permission. Please visit her blog for the updated version of this post.
I wanted to write this piece because the topics are ones that are not often discussed officially but I think it should be. You hear about these things second hand, in the rumor mill, and that’s never good. I’m writing this to give you my perspective to provide tips for securing your work.
Disclosure: I have not had anything stolen. I had two pieces vandalized but the damage was minor and fixable. I have discovered at least 3 works were stolen at 3 different AOM events. Art theft, as far as I’m aware, is not a huge problem at Artomatic, but it does occur.
If you’ve ever worked a retail job, and paid attention during Loss Prevention training, then you know that the vast majority (in excess of 80%) of theft is internal. It isn’t customers stealing, it’s the employees. In terms of Artomatic, that means most of the items stolen are stolen by artists.
Art isn’t the only thing stolen at Artomatic. From my experience, it seems that theft of supplies is far more frequent than art theft. At most of the events, I hear people complain about paint, primer, brushes, and drop cloths going missing. If you can’t afford your own supplies, how did you scrape the entry fee together? More importantly, why did to scrape the entry fee together and think it was OK to steal everything else from your fellow artists??
Theft is a crime of time and access. Artists have the broadest level of access to the building, and the most time to steal. By limiting access to your items and making them hard to remove, you’ve taken the most important steps to making sure nothing is stolen.
Prevent the theft of your supplies by not leaving them in the building when you are not there. Don’t drop them off for use another day. Don’t leave them overnight. If a would-be thief doesn’t have access to your stuff, they can’t steal it. Simple enough.
PREVENTING THEFT: Floor-walking should be called Floor Security.
When you floor-walk you should take note of each display. Just a quick glance to make sure there aren’t tags without corresponding art. It doesn’t take long, you aren’t supposed to be admiring the artwork, just seeing if there are gaps that shouldn’t be there. If you see a label without any corresponding artwork, that’s a problem and you should notify the Gallery Manager immediately.
Keep an eye on people. If someone wants to steal something, they will take note of anyone who appears to be watching. If they see volunteers regularly, they know they’ll have to be much more careful. If the volunteer(s) they see are glued to their phone or hanging out with friends, the thief knows they have much less to worry about.
SECURING YOUR ARTWORK
There are several things you can do in order to secure your work to the wall. Secure your artwork well and it will take too long to get it off the wall for most thieves. It takes a special kind of reckless dedication to continue to try to pull a secured piece of art from the wall.
If your work is expensive, and wall mounted, there are security devices you can attach directly to your work. Some just make it hard to remove, others set off an alarm. These can be pricey. I don’t know much else about them because I don’t use them. Previous AOM shows have made them available for sale so perhaps someone on the security team could tell you more.
If your work is less expensive you could do what I, and several others, do: Fun Tak. Once you hang your work, you put two generous globs of the stuff on the bottom corners (at minimum). If you’re careful, it won’t show. This works because it makes the piece much harder to remove from the wall. Much harder. Theft requires time. The more time a thief has to spend removing a piece, the more likely he will be caught. As a bonus, your pieces will stay level throughout the show. You can also apply it to the bottom of sculptures or other 3D objects.
You can purchase this stuff nearly anywhere that carries adhesives: Wal-Mart, Walgreens, K-mart, Target, CVS, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc….. I have used this stuff at many shows aside from Artomatic. To date, I’ve not had anything stolen including the very tiny artwork I occasionally display.
Warning #1: Fun Tak can become very difficult to remove if the building becomes dry. Good for security, bad for deinstall. If your piece becomes a bit too stuck, be patient and use a credit card (or similar flat surface) to try and pry it from the wall. Once it’s off the wall, it is a bit easier to get it off your artwork.
Warning #2: Test stick tack on any surface you have the slightest doubt about. Some brands of Fun-Tak can leave a mark, especially on paper and other porous surfaces.
INSURING YOUR WORK
First, and foremost, once you finish installing your work, carefully photograph your wall. Make sure each piece of your work is visible in at least one photograph. This will be your proof if something is stolen.
If your work is expensive, then you will want to insure your artwork. If you own a home, you may be able to get a temporary, or short-term, policy to cover your work. This policy can, and often will, include insurance against personal injury resulting from your work (if it falls on someone, for example). Going through an insurance company you already do business often means you will get a discounted policy. If you do not own a home, contact an insurance company that offers insurance to businesses. You can get temporary policies from those companies since, as an artist, you own a business. I can’t tell you what it will cost because that varies on how many pieces, the total cost of the work, and if you are using an insurance company you already do business with.
VANDALISM AND DAMAGE
If you think only controversial works get vandalized, think again. Vandalism isn’t always nefarious. When artwork is broken or damaged, that is a form of vandalism even if there wasn’t an intent to destroy the work. Sometimes people just want to touch your work really badly. Sometimes their hands are dirty, or they get a bit too enthusiastic. Sometimes they forget that their kids need constant monitoring, and kids love touching things.
The only way to prevent vandalism is to be vigilant when floor-walking. Once again, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Your presence is enough to remind most people not to touch but occasionally you need to remind people verbally.
This article could be improved greatly by adding your experiences and knowledge. Please post them or email them to me so I can expand this article.