The two climate activists who protested at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in April by smearing paint on the base and case of a famous Degas sculpture have been indicted by a federal grand jury. The charges from the US Attorney’s Office are “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States” and injury to an exhibit or property at the museum.
The unsealed indictment alleges that Timothy Martin and Joanna Smith, along with other unnamed co-conspirators, conducted research into potential targets at the National Gallery, alerted members of the media prior, and entered the museum with plastic water bottles filled with paint for the purpose of injuring an exhibit. It further alleges that Martin and Smith smeared that paint on the case, base, and floor surrounding Degas’s Little Dancer, Age Fourteen.
The protest by Martin and Smith, which happened around 11 a.m. on April 27, was aimed at bringing attention to the climate crisis. The protestors, members of the climate group Declare Emergency, also demanded President Joe Biden declare a climate emergency as well as stop issuing new drilling permits and subsidies for fossil fuels.
Federal authorities also allege that Martin and Smith caused $2,400 in damages and for the work to be removed for 10 days for repairs. The incident prompted the museum’s director, Kaywin Feldman, to issue a video statement on Twitter in response.
The two activists both self-surrendered and were taken into custody on Friday, according a press release from the Department of Justice. The release also states the case is being investigated by the Washington field office of the FBI, specifically the bureau’s Art Crime Team, with assistance from National Gallery of Art Police and US Park Police.
If convicted, Martin and Smith face a maximum sentence of five years in prison as well as a fine of up to $250,000.
The protest at the National Gallery of Art happened a few days after Declare Emergency had shut down a section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, resulting in traffic issues around Washington, D.C. There have been several other climate protests from a variety of organizations across museums in Europe, Australia and Canada. The protestors frequently target high-profile art works, such as paintings by Vermeer, Goya, Monet, van Gogh, and Rubens.
There are precedents for punishments in response to climate protests. These include Italian politicians pushing for fines in response to recent protests at public monuments, as well as two activists in Belgium that were sentenced to two months in prison last November for targeting Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Hague.