Sunday, 14 November 2010

US Museums in No State to Accept Loans?

The United States of America, though it is a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property actually does not respect the majority of its contents. The 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act conditions even the most basic activities (import control of antiquities) on a complicated procedure involving prior individual public consultations and the State Party which is the victim of illegal export fulfilling certain conditions in favour of the US first. This is a total anathema to the ideals behind the Convention.

The Wisconsin 12 Congressmen urge the State Department to look into the degree to which countries like Italy, having signed bilateral cultural property agreements with the US are loaning museums in the US objects for display. Presumably they are hoping the State Department will conclude that these state parties are failing in their obligations towards the US in this regard (it seems clear that their intention is that the free sale of smuggled ancient coins should not be hindered by such agreements).

Meanwhile British artefact hunter and collector Candice Jarman with the support of US collectors' rights lobbyists Wayne Sayles and Peter Tompa has been examining the relationship between private and public collection. She draws attention to a report of Heritage Preservation, a Washington-based conservation group which would indicate that even before the current financial crisis, US museums were woefully badly prepared to look after such material, were it to be loaned (Lynette Clementson, 'History Is Slipping Away as Collections Deteriorate, Report Says', New York Times, Dec 6th 2005).

It would be interesting to see whether the same Congressmen who signed a letter urging that Italy should be forced to increase still further "long term loans to all US museums" had also previously taken part in any moves to better fund conservation and environmental control in US museums. If not, it would be hypocritical expecting other countries to loan material to US museums if they are ill-prepared to look after them properly.

Have these Congressmen supported increased allocations of money to US museums for conservation facilities, staff and environmental control? How much and what was the result?

Paul Ryan (R-WI), Thomas Petri (R-WI), John Culberson (R-TX), Michael Burgess (R-TX), Sam Johnson (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), John Campbell (R-CA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) , Rob Wittman (R-VA), John Spratt (D-SC) and Joe Courtney (D-CT).

Vignette: The Adams Family Museum.

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