Out of Harm’s Way
The Butler Institute keeps American art safe with network cameras paired with object protection software to protect its vast collections of historical displays
- By David Tynan
- Jun 01, 2018
Nestled beside the campus of Youngstown State University
in Youngstown, Ohio is the Butler Institute of
American Art. Distinctly noted as the first museum in
the country specifically designed and constructed to
house American art, the museum encompasses over
300 years of visual art from the United States across roughly 60,000
square feet of galleries and display halls. Open six days a week and
offering free admission to the public, the gallery opened in 1919 and
is listed today on the National Register of Historic Places.
The institute welcomes close to 100,000 guests each year to view
its compilation of sculptures, prints, ceramic works and different media.
With more than 21,000 individual artworks on display at any
given time, the museum sought out a security system to assist the
guards in monitoring the vast amount of rooms and corridors filled
with priceless works. After an incident occurred in which a parent
removed a painting from the wall in order to show their child, the
museum decided to seek out an advanced security system to identify
incidents before they escalated.
The Butler Institute’s first installation with Axis solutions consisted
of 100 AXIS 210A Network Cameras, most of which are still
in place several years later.
“We bought 100 of those with different lenses, and as a result, I
don’t think we’ve ever had one fail,” said Ken Platt, head of security
at the Butler Institute. “We’ve had tremendous success with the Axis
products from a reliability standpoint.”
Sculpting a Contemporary System
Partnering with Acuity-vct, the integrator and software provider on
the project, the institution has software set in place that provides motion-
based alarming. The Acuity-vct technology, Video Surveillance
and Object Protection Software, works hand-in-hand with cameras
overseeing each piece of art as it detects any change to an image in a
selected zone. The staff is able to define zones within each camera’s
view, and alarms will trigger if the system detects physical crossing of
the predefined zone borders.
If you get too close to any piece of artwork within the museum,
you will hear a tone or voice alerting you to move from that space.
This helps the guards avoid confrontation, as they can instantly look
at the area in question to see if the proximity was accidental or if
there is an incident at hand.
This system helped solve the problem of not having guards in every
gallery keep things in order at all hours, especially with the IR illumination
built into the Axis network cameras surveying each room.
“Ideally, it would be terrific to be able to afford a guard in every
gallery, but that just doesn’t work for most museums that are not cash
rich,” saidd Dr. Louis Zona, executive director and Chief Curator
of the Butler Institute. “Consequently, this system has really made
sleeping a little bit easier for those of us in charge of this place.”
The forensic detail garnered by the Acuity-vct software along with
the video provided by the object protection cameras can provide law
enforcement the necessary evidence if theft or damage were to occur.
Monitoring the Scene from Within
Along with guards by the front door that keep watch of two 42-inch
monitors showing general surveillance of the property, Platt also
maintains four of those monitors in his office. From there, he is able
to adjust the zones accordingly and be aware of any incidents in the
museum, as the displays allow him to switch to pertinent camera
Using a fix boxed Axis network camera over a main walkway in
the museum with wide dynamic range (WDR) enabled, the Butler
Institute is able to stream a high-resolution video feed despite the
contrast lighting coming in from glass doors and above skylights.
With the Acuity-vct software, the institute also employs two dozen
AXIS F44 Main Units, smaller sensors that maintain a discreet look
and don’t intimidate visitors while still protecting a vast collection.
Axis’ light-sensitive fixed dome network cameras are also mounted
throughout the galleries, withstanding any potential lighting situations
that the artwork may need to consistently provide high quality
views of the rooms. In addition, cameras at doorways provide
crucial facial recognition along with the ability to identify license
plates if necessary.
Securing a Legacy
The Butler Institute has achieved major success in avoiding damage
and theft issues after the deployment of the system. Working together,
the cameras and software proactively alert visitors of their close
proximity to a piece, making a person less likely to touch a piece a
second time. The system also helps the guards to be more efficient by
allowing them to concentrate on real threat rather than viewing gallery
cameras with no activity. The forensic detail along with the video
provided by the object protection cameras can provide law enforcement
the necessary evidence if theft or damage were to occur.
“The Axis products paired with the Acuity-vct system have
dramatically improved the safety of the museum,” said. Dr. Louis
Zona, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Butler Institute.
“The paintings in our collection are priceless as we can’t go
back and get new ones. World-renowned artists
like Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent
are gone, however their legacy lives on in these
masterpieces. It is our responsibility to protect
these works for prosperity.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Security Today.