Thursday, 2 October 2014

AAMD Returns to the old idea of an Antiquity Tax

The Association of American Art Museum Directors has made a case to CPAC that the CCPIA does not help protect the archaeological heritage of countries like the United Kingdom. Here is part of what the AAAMD has told CPAC in its recent public comments (slightly edited for consistency):
AAAMD does not suggest that it has all of the answers to this issue, but one can begin to identify those answers by admitting that simply repeating what has been done in the past is not likely to have any different result than what has occurred over the last 27 years. In 2010, the AAAMD recommended to this Committee that instead of export licences, the United Kingdom be encouraged to begin a legal system of exchange of cultural property. This can be suggested under 19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(4). Any such exchange should be taxed and the proceeds of that tax should be used to protect cultural sites and to encourage related employment by the local populations and the scientific exploration, storage and conservation of objects from those sites. There may well be other approaches that reasonable people on all sides of these issues can recommend, but the first step needs to be taken by this Committee in acknowledging that new and different approaches must be taken if the archaeological record of a country like the United Kingdom is to be preserved and protected.
How much revenue is raised by the state in the UK through the legal system of exchange of cultural property? To what extent could taxes from the UK antiquities trade be used to cover the extensive costs of:
(a) protecting cultural sites,
(b) encouraging "related employment by the local populations" and
(c) the scientific exploration of objects (sic!) from those sites
(d) their storage and conservation?
Discuss. Actually, since they put forward the idea, let the AAAMD put forward a cost sheet demonstrating how their proposed mechanism would work in a country like the UK, and then for comparison, how it would operate in a smaller country, like - for example El Salvador. Would museums and other public institutions buying artefacts on such a market also have to pay this tax, even if buying back their own heritage?  Will they be taking money from the tax profits for their own storage costs and conservation bills? Details please and cost sheets please AAAMD. Put your money where your collective art-museum-directorial mouth is.Why not suggest a similar system in the US to cover costs of heritage protection there too?

I think the confusion here again is the failure of the Association of American Art Museum Directors to actually get to grips with the real, instead of Disneyland fantasy, wording of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It is not there to "preserve and protect the archaeological record of a country" ("like El Salvador" - what does that mean?). Read the words. Carefully. Use a dishionary if you don't know what the words mean.

Just who do the AAAMD think they are to urge their government start dictating to a sovereign nation just what they should and should not do with its own heritage?  The recognition of the right of sovereign nations to decide precisely this is the whole point of the Convention. If the AAAMD don't think the US should agree to the 26 articles of the Convention, then let the AAAMD propose the US stop the hypocrisy and withdraw from the Convention. I dare them. But if you are a party to a convention, it means you accept the principles it embodies. No? It is not intended as a forum for neo-colonial impudence from big nations at the expense of the smaller ones.  What "American values' do their art museums represent anyway? 

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