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

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 feeds swiftly.

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.

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