- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Smithsonian Institution describes its ArtLab+ workshops as a way to give Washington-area teenagers a place to connect with local artists and built marketable art skills, but some participants have gotten a lot more from the program.

Citing a pattern of pilfered laptops, the Smithsonian’s Office of Inspector General this week issued a management alert about the program, citing the Smithsonian’s “lax controls” over Apple MacBook laptops.

In the seven months ending in April, five laptop computers worth about $4,500 went missing from the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the Mall where the program is held, officials found.

The ArtLab+ offers two programs: workshops to give area teens an “opportunity to hone digital skills by working with mentors and professional artists,” as well as the “Drop Zone” program where teens use digital cameras and recording equipment, according to the memo.

While the Drop Zone program also included the use of laptops, the program didn’t require prior registration. And the area where the laptops were used wasn’t monitored by security.

Three of the five laptops were stolen during the “Drop Zone” program, and officials weren’t sure when the other two were taken.

“Deficiencies in the ArtLab+’s internal controls allowed these thefts to occur over the course of seven months,” the inspector general’s office notes in its management memo dated Sept. 17.

Among the problems cited, the program didn’t have a way of recording who checked out each laptop. What’s more, there was no security guard on duty, either.

“The lack of security presented a risk to the safeguarding of Smithsonian assets,” the memo concludes.

Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, referred to a formal management response included in the inspector general’s memo that included several changes to prevent more thefts.

According to the response, teens now have register by providing their full name and address and valid identification. Officials also are working to install a radio frequency identification system that would trigger an alarm hen a laptop is taken from the ArtLab+ space, which is now monitored by a security guard.

Meanwhile, officials are still trying to track down the stolen laptops.

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