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Climate Activists Indicted for Vandalizing Degas Sculpture at National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C

Iftikar Ahmed

Two climate activists who vandalised a famous Degas sculpture at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. have been indicted by a federal grand jury. The charges include “conspiracy to commit an offence against the United States” and injury to an exhibit or property at the museum, as stated by the US Attorney’s Office.

The recently unsealed indictment alleges that Timothy Martin and Joanna Smith, along with unidentified co-conspirators, conducted research on potential targets at the National Gallery. They reportedly informed the media in advance and entered the museum with plastic water bottles filled with paint to damage an exhibit. The indictment claims that Martin and Smith smeared paint on the case, base, and floor surrounding Degas’s renowned sculpture, “Little Dancer, Age Fourteen.”

The protest, orchestrated by Martin and Smith, occurred on April 27 at approximately 11 a.m. Its purpose was to draw attention to the climate crisis. The activists, who are members of the climate group Declare Emergency, demanded that President Joe Biden declare a climate emergency and cease issuing new drilling permits and fossil fuel subsidies.

Federal authorities assert that the damages caused by Martin and Smith amount to $2,400 and necessitated the removal of the artwork for repairs for a period of ten days. In response, Kaywin Feldman, the museum’s director, issued a video statement on Twitter.

Both activists surrendered themselves and were taken into custody on Friday, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. The case is being investigated by the Washington field office of the FBI, particularly the Art Crime Team, with assistance from the National Gallery of Art Police and US Park Police.

If convicted, Martin and Smith could face a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.

This incident at the National Gallery of Art follows a series of climate protests by various organisations targeting museums worldwide, including those in Europe, Australia, and Canada. Protesters often choose high-profile artworks, such as pieces by Vermeer, Goya, Monet, van Gogh, and Rubens.

Precedents for punishments related to climate protests have been set, including fines proposed by Italian politicians in response to recent demonstrations at public monuments. Additionally, two activists in Belgium received a two-month prison sentence last November for targeting Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in The Hague.

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