Climate activist charged for smearing paint on Degas sculpture pleads guilty

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One of the two climate activists charged earlier this year for smearing paint over the display of a famed Edgar Degas sculpture at the National Gallery of Art pleaded guilty to damaging museum property on Friday, according to court documents.

Joanna Smith and Tim Martin smuggled red and black paint into the Washington, D.C., gallery and smeared it over the display case for Degas’s “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture — one of his most famous works — in April. They were affiliated with the climate protest group Declare Emergency.

Smith pleaded guilty to injury of museum property, which faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Declare Emergency posted a statement attributed to Smith at the time of the protest.

“Today, in nonviolent rebellion, we have temporarily sullied a piece of art to evoke the real children whose suffering is guaranteed if the death-cult fossil fuel companies keep removing new coal, oil, and gas from the ground,” the statement said. “As a parent, I cannot abide this future.”

The paint caused $2,400 in damage to the display, according to court documents, which was removed from public viewing for over a week while being repaired. 

“As we have made clear from the beginning, Joanna has a deep respect and appreciation for the arts and had absolutely no intention whatsoever of causing harm to the Degas sculpture,” Smith’s attorney told The Washington Post in a statement. “She was there simply to make an important point about our climate crisis. We hope the court will understand that at sentencing.”

Martin told the Post on Friday that he plans to go to trial next year. He faces the same charges as Smith.

“I’m just curious of what a trial by jury would be like when we’re talking about the… end-of-the-world climate emergency and they want to treat it like damage of museum property,” he said. “I’m just curious to see if they’ll ignore this looming crisis.”

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