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Museum goers observe Sunflowers by Van Gogh

In the fight against climate change, cultural artifacts are not expendable.

Over 100 galleries and museums around the world have issued a joint statement urging climate activists not to endanger historic art in their protests.


The statement was issued by the German National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and featured signatories such as the British Museum in London, New York’s Guggenheim Museum, and Paris’ Louvre Museum.

It read, in part: “In recent weeks, there have been several attacks on works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for them severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage."

The statement follows recent incidents where activists have defaced paintings to draw attention to climate change. Last month, two women threw tomato soup at Van Gogh's Sunflowers in London's National Gallery. Weeks after, activists in Germany threw mashed potatoes onto a Claude Monet piece.

While neither of the paintings were damaged, museum directors have noted that they are increasingly "frustrated" and "deeply shaken" by these recent protests, as they endanger historic artifacts.

“Museums are places where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can engage in dialogue and which therefore enable social discourse,” the statement continued. “We will continue to advocate for direct access to our cultural heritage. And we will maintain the museum as a free space for social communication.”

Just Stop Oil, the group behind the Von Gogh incident, justify their targeting of cultural touchstones as a way to draw attention to how “if the climate collapses, the entire civilization as we know it collapses. There will be no more tourism, no museums, no art.”

A follow-up statement from ICOM said that museums are "allies" in the fight against climate change, and addressed activists' grievances by reiterating that they “acknowledge and share both the concerns expressed by museums regarding the safety of collections and the concerns of climate activists as we face an environmental catastrophe that threatens life on Earth.”

A separate statement from the U.S. association of Art Museum Directors deemed these protests as "attacks" that “cannot be justified," as “such protests are misdirected, and the ends do not justify the means."

Professor of sociology at the University of Maryland Dana Fisher told The Washington Post that while actions such as Just Stop Oil's draw media attention to climate issues, they do not sway opinions.

“Research shows that this kind of tactic doesn’t work to change minds and hearts," she said. “It’s working to get attention. But to what end?”

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