The Louvre in Paris, the most visited art museum in the world in 2012, has closed its doors because of a staff walkout over increasingly pushy pickpockets. About 9.7 million art lovers passed through its galleries in 2012, with a projected 30,000 visitors a day coming through at this time of year.
Museum workers walked off the job Wednesday because they said that a rising tide of pickpockets prevents them from being able to help genuine visitors or protect the precious art treasures. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, perhaps the single most famous painting in the world, is exhibited there.
At issue is the fact that entrance to the Louvre is free for children under age 18, a loophole which young professional pickpockets have been quick to exploit. They can enter the museum at no cost and roam around in search of well-heeled victims who are looking at the art, not holding tightly to their wallets.
English-speaking travelers, especially well-to-do Britons, feel that they have been targeted by children asking, “Do you speak English?” Another technique is to push an English postcard into the target’s hand and ask them to read or sign it. While the victim is distracted, another nearby child or even a circle of children can sneak off with his or her wallet.
UK’s The Telegraph quoted an unnamed union member who joined the strike as saying that the children worked in gangs: “We can only do so much, but arrests are usually impossible because of their young age. If they are kicked out, they return the next day. They are very aggressive towards staff, putting people in danger of attack.” Another union member said that the staff themselves felt threatened.
Louvre Museum supervisor Sophie Aguirre agreed, stating that the gangs of children swarming victims have becoming more violent over the last 18 months.
With the safety of both art and humans at risk from the Louvre pickpockets, 100 staff members gathered in front of the French Ministry of Culture to ask for action. They haven’t yet said when they will come back to work or when the Louvre will be able to re-open.
[Louvre interior and Louvre art restoration workshop photos by Elaine Radford]