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How a Gang of Pickpockets Shut Down the Louvre

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By Harold Maass

Employees at the Louvre agreed to return to work on Thursday after a one-day walkout, but only when their bosses said they'd tighten security to crack down on increasingly aggressive gangs of pickpockets at the famous Paris art museum. The strike left crowds of disappointed tourists waiting for hours outside the Louvre, home to such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. About 200 of the 450 staff members it takes to run the museum participated in the walkout, and 100 of them picketed in front of the Ministry of Culture demanding that the government tackle the problem. So what's all the ruckus about?

Why are the gangs so threatening?

Museum workers say the pickpockets cruise the Louvre in groups of up to 30. They're usually minors, so they can get into the Louvre any time, as admission is free for visitors under 18. English-speaking tourists complain that the thieves, many of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, target them, asking, "Do you speak English?" or giving them an English postcard to sign or read. While the person is distracted, more of the thieves show up, grabbing the victim's wallet or other valuables and then quickly walking away.

And the danger is increasing.

Museum employees have increased their pleas for help as the pickpockets grow more aggressive. Workers say the kids spit at them, insult them, threaten them, and even attack them when spotted. "The children are tough and very well organized," one member of the staff tells Britain's Telegraph. "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."

This isn't exactly a new problem, though.

"There are always pickpockets at the Louvre and other tourist hot spots in central Paris, but for a year and a half they have been more and more violent... and their way of working is well organized," Sophie Aguirre, a member of the museum workers' union, tells Britain's Guardian. The union last year lodged a formal complaint with the state prosecutor saying that the thieves are targeting both visitors and staff members in the vast galleries.

How are authorities addressing the problem?

After the employees filed their complaint to prosecutors last year, the museum stepped up cooperation with police and began barring anyone already identified as a pickpocket from entering the museum. Now authorities have agreed to increase police presence at and around the Louvre. The stakes are high for the city. The Louvre is the world's most heavily visited museum, with nearly 10 million visitors each year. At this time of year, 30,000 people arrive each day, and their impressions can have a direct impact on the city's image among tourists, an important source of income for the French capital. And the widely publicized Louvre walkout comes as the city is still recovering from another recent blow to its reputation, when thieves attacked a tour guide and stole passports and a large amount of cash from a group of 23 Chinese tourists who had just arrived in the country.

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Art
The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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