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 glass case holding 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 coconspirators, conducted research into potential targets at the National Gallery, alerted members of the media beforehand, 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 protesters, 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; the work will be removed for 10 days for repairs. The incident prompted museum director Kaywin Feldman to issue a video statement on Twitter in response.
Both activists 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 shut down a section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, resulting in traffic congestion around Washington, D.C. In climate protests by a variety of organizations across museums in Europe, Australia, and Canada, high-profile artworks such as those by Vermeer, Goya, Monet, van Gogh, and Rubens are frequent targets.
Precedents for punishment in response to climate protests include that for two activists in Belgium who were sentenced to two months in prison last November for targeting Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Hague. Italian politicians are pushing for fines in response to recent protests at public monuments.