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Database is at the heart of the Italian art squad – Innovation Origins

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Try buying a Roman amphora, an Etruscan vase, or a (pompous) baroque oil painting on the internet. If you do, there’s a good chance there’s an Italian policeman looking over your shoulder.

Dozens of policemen scour the internet day after day in search of looted art. They are part of the Carabinieri Commando for the Protection of Cultural Heritage; (Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale), or art squad for short. “Unlike my colleagues who deal with criminals, our main task is to track down and recover looted art,” says Nicola Candido, the head of the operative department in Rome. If in the meantime, criminals – thieves, fencers, buyers, sellers – are also tracked down, that’s fine, too. “But our absolute priority is to get the art back to Italy,” says the 53-year-old Lieutenant Colonel.

100,000 churches

After the Second World War (and also during that war, but that is another story) a massive amount of art and illegally excavated archaeological finds were stolen in Italy and taken abroad. That this could happen (and is still happening), is not so strange. Italy is probably the country with the richest cultural heritage in the world and ranks number one on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites. Italy has more than 4,000 museums and almost 300 archaeological parks, not to mention the countless sites with Etruscan tombs (not yet or illegally excavated) and remains of Greco-Roman culture. There are also some 100,000 Roman Catholic churches, many with art from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Officer Spadari of the Italian art squad. © Massimo Sestini

Because of the seriousness of the situation, the Italian art squad was set up in 1969, which was assigned to the carabinieri, the military police. It was the first art squad in the world. Although other countries subsequently set up similar investigative units, the Italian art squad is still considered the world’s benchmark. This is due to the experience of this department, its large number of staff (300 people), its regional presence (15 branches across the country) and, above all, its database of looted art.

Database

When the art squad was first formed in May 1969, they immediately started systematically gathering information about looted art. This developed into a database with detailed data on 1.3 million objects of art, the heart of the art squad. The database is, in fact, anchored in a law from 2004. As long as the Italian Parliament does not decide otherwise, the development and maintenance of this database are obligatory. However, the art squad will never be disbanded because they provide a demonstrable cultural and economic advantage. In 2019, art objects worth more than 100 million euros were recovered.

Luigi Spadari shows a cardboard map measuring 20 by 15 centimeters. “This is what our first database looked like,” says the Lieutenant Colonel, who heads the data processing department. On one side of the cardboard is a photo of and information about a stolen work of art, while the other side features data about the crime. The card held up by the 58-year-old officer is the ‘data entry’ of one of the most sought-after works of art in the world. On the back of the card it says that on the night of 17 October 1969, unknown thieves stole the oil painting “Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence” from a church in Palermo. The work is by the Italian painter Caravaggio. If it were put on the market now, it would easily fetch 200 million euros. But there is no trace whatsoever of the work.

The paper archive was computerized in 1980. But because computer memory was limited in those days, only the texts in the digital database were available. The photos were too big. This was, of course, remedied in a subsequent version. Over the course of decades, the system has developed in such a way that advanced photo recognition is now possible, among other things. Spadari’s team uses this to search the internet. They check international marketplaces and auction sites online for similarities with the database’s data. Thanks to this activity, 623 investigations were launched in 2019.

The Darknet

Most of the stolen art is Italian. Yet ten percent are of foreign origin. For example, in 2015 the French police asked the Italians to enter Banksy’s stolen work from the Bataclan theater in Paris into their database. As a result, the painting was found during a search of a farm in central Italy last June.

The database will be updated shortly (the last update was in 2017). A special search engine is also being built to enable the art squad to automatically obtain information about (potentially illegal) works of art on offer. The new version should also cover the darknet. The art squad has also developed a free app (iTPC Carabinieri). Among other things, people can use their phones to photograph a piece of art and have that photo compared to data from the database.

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Influential Social Practice Art Fellowship Program Shuts Down Because of Covid-19 – ARTnews

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The New York–based nonprofit A Blade of Grass, which has supported the production of socially-engaged artworks through funded fellowships, has announced a significant restructuring of its operations and program as a result of financial challenges precipitated by the pandemic. In a sign of the health crisis’s impact on small arts nonprofits, the organization will end its fellowship program, with the artist fellows named in March 2020 representing the final cohort in the program.

A Blade of Grass also announced that it will lay off its current five-person full-time staff in October and cut salary and benefits for its executive director, Deborah Fisher. During the 2021 fiscal year, the nonprofit will launch a commissioning model through which it will support the creation of a selection of artworks and related public programs. In addition, the nonprofit will organize “listening sessions” with artists to discuss their needs and formulate new modes of meeting them.

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The organization’s annual Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art had awarded individual grants of $20,000 to eight artists during each cycle. Those funds went toward the development of artworks that address social, political, and economic issues across different communities.

Since the fellowship program was launched in 2014, it has been considered one of the top initiatives devoted to social practice art, which relies on outreach, conversations, and activism, and often does not take the form of physical objects. Major artists and groups, including Simone Leigh, Black Quantum Futurism, Ras Cutlass, Monica Sheets, Chinatown Art Brigade, Suzanne Lacy, and Dread Scott, have been named A Blade of Grass fellows in the past. The organization’s 2020 cohort includes Cannupa Hanska Luger, Taja Lindley, the theater collective Papel Machete, and others.

“In a moment when socially engaged artists have a particularly critical role to play, we are also being faced with the reality that arts funding, in its current form, is precarious precisely because the arts are perceived as serving too few,” Fisher said in a statement. “While we could not have predicted these circumstances, we have to deal with the moment as it exists and make the difficult but necessary decisions now to establish a more sustainable model that will allow the organization to continue to fulfill its mission and the commitment it made to supporting socially engaged art and the artists who create it.”

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Artch: From abstract to accessible contemporary art | Fringe Arts – The Link

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Multimedia exhibition welcomes emerging artists in Montreal

One out of three artists does not live off their art after graduating due to a lack of resources for art professionalization, according to Artch’s director Sarah Kitzy Gineau-Delyon.

Every year, Artch holds an outdoor contemporary art exhibition in Dorchester Square made for young emerging artists.

The core purpose of this organization is to support new creators with an entrepreneurship training and a platform to showcase their work. Artch’s mission is also to popularize this art form with free exhibits and cultural mediators to bridge contemporary art, which can be abstract, to the population as well as enhancing the local art market by raising awareness on its relevance.

This initiative emerged in 2018 between Art Souterrain, the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi Montréal Centre-Ville, and Jack Marketing. This inclusive project is developed in collaboration with Concordia, UQÀM, the RCAAQ and the RAAV.

“Each organization brings their own set of skills so if we support young artists, promote the art market to new investors and democratize contemporary art, we will make the Montreal artistic ecosystem durable,” said Gineau-Delyon.

Resources for emerging artists
For the third edition of Artch this fall, 19 selected creators received 50 hours of artistic entrepreneurship training. This helped them understand business models according to their careers goals, how to manage an exhibit, demystify the dynamics of the art markets, learn self-promotion, build a network, and so on.

“Being an artist is like being an entrepreneur. […] There is no defined path to live the art life but a thousand ways to be an artist,” said Gineau-Delyon. Art schools promote a conceptual approach, she explained, but there is a lack of education concerning art industries. Artch’s training guides emerging artists in understanding the direction in which they wish to pursue their career.

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“Being an artist is like being an entrepreneur. […] There is no defined path to live the art life but a thousand ways to be an artist.”
Gineau-Delyon

In addition to this training, creators receive a $1,000 grant and the opportunity to interact with other creators which may lead to collaborations and constructive feedback since they are physically present to see the installations.

The artists were selling their work through the events and during the festival. Their pieces are available for sale on the Artch’s website.

Unlike most art galleries, Artch does not take any commission when artists are selling an art piece to encourage emerging artists to stand on their own two feet. The call for artists for next year is launched and artistic criteria are originality, innovation, risk-taking, accessibility and coherence, explained Gineau-Delyon.

Photographer Isabelle Parson, featured in the festival, is interested in the materiality of things from a poetic, scientific and philosophical perspective. Parson enjoyed interacting with the public to get feedback and exchange on attendees’ interpretations of her work. She wonders what alternative views we can find out of everyday objects.

For instance, in January she collected microbes from a tablet to cultivate them on a thin plastic layer that she replaced on the device two weeks later with a massive amount of germs. “The matter resonates,” she said. “I am sensitive to what it can evoke.”

From a post-COVID view, it is fascinating to realize how one’s interpretation of this artwork can be shaped by the pandemic context. Before, contamination was out of sight, but over time our perception of everyday objects radically changed and therefore influenced the meaning of the photo.

Democratizing elitist art
A sizeable part of the population is unfamiliar with this conceptual medium. There is a struggle of education and accessibility to interact with this type of art, acknowledged the Artch’s director. She indicated that contemporary art can be seen as elitist so one of their goals is to democratize it. Indeed, not everyone can afford entrance to museums and galleries, and fewer have the time to intellectualize an abstract piece of art.

Raising awareness on art is relevant to connect it with the street, explained Sarah-Kitzy Gineau-Delyon. This initiative has agency to promote equity.

The cultural mediators are there to help attendees connect with contemporary art through free guided tours. Their role is not to teach a subjective interpretation as well as giving a background on the artworks as traditional art guides. They make it accessible by promoting the audience’s reflections. They suggest questions such as: “How do you feel? What is that piece evoking for you?”

Dorchester Square is a free open space therefore contemporary art suddenly becomes accessible and the park’s tumult becomes a feature of this happening. There are also workshops, held online this year, to make the population mindful of this misunderstood art form which is more emotional than intellectual in the end.

Flourishing local art
Raising awareness is also meaningful to acknowledge the importance of art in the community. Dorchester Square is a strategic location for Artch because the park is grounded in the everyday life of many skyscrapers’ workers who can afford art. Raising awareness about the art market is important to motivate potential clients to invest in local creativity instead of Ikea items for instance, explained Gineau-Delyon. In order to do so, Artch held online workshops about buying artworks and introducing contemporary art.

With all those means of reinforcing Montreal-based contemporary art, they witness the impact on artists’ careers who were promoted by the organization whether they are exposed in galleries, launching solo exhibitions, or selling pieces in prestigious collections. Artch is a springboard for emerging creators.

To illustrate that, Myriam Simard Parent is a sculpture artist who was selected last year by Artch and has made a living off her art and also started a MFA in sculpture at Concordia. She is selling her work on her Instagram account which seems to be a great platform for entrepreneurship.

Every year, Artch creates opportunities for new artists to dive right into Montreal’s art scene.

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West End Art Project adds colourful pieces to Windsor's west side – Windsor Star

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A skateboard sign post and reimagined picnic tables are some of the new functional public art pieces that have recently been added to Windsor’s west side.

The West End Art Project unveiled four locally-made pieces on Friday — three at the Queen’s Dock at the foot of Mill Street, and one more at the historic Dominion House (3140 Sandwich St.).

The Queen’s Dock property belongs to the Port Authority of Windsor.

New colourful signs designed by the Vanguard Youth Arts Collective have been posted to celebrate the area, with the names of picturesque west-end neighbourhoods painted upon skateboards.

Nearby, Jessica Cook’s work All My Relations features multiple picnic tables merged into one giant, interconnected table that Queen’s Dock visitors are welcome to sit upon.

Meanwhile, Kristina Bradt’s piece Home Away From Home — a specially-painted picnic table — has been placed outside the Dominion House.

The West End Art Project is an initiative by the organization Life After Fifty, funded by the Gordie Howe International Bridge community benefits plan.

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Skateboards painted by the Vanguard Youth Arts Collective, located at the Queen’s Dock as part of the West End Art Project. Photo by West End Art Project /Windsor Star
Jessica Cook’s public art piece All My Relations – part of the West End Art Project, located at the Queen’s Dock. Photo by West End Art Project /Windsor Star
Members of the Vanguard Youth Arts Collective with a sign they created for the Queen’s Dock park as part of the West End Art Project. Photo by West End Art Project /Windsor Star

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