Monday 28 October 2013

US Special Interest "Cultural Policy" Talkshops

There are a number of  so-called "cultural policy" institutions set up by antiquities dealers and collectors in the US, and this could lead to confusion who is who. I thought it might be useful to note those most noticeable in the field of antiquity collecting.

The American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) , a 'not-for-profit organization' with its headquarters in New York and representatives in Washington D.C. This was formed in October 2002 by a group of politically connected antiquities dealers, collectors and lawyers in the United States . The goal of the organization was described as "informing the public on arts issues". The organization's website ( gives its current framework as follows: 
President - Ashton Hawkins
Vice President - Arthur Houghton
Treasurer - William Pearlstein
Secretary - Arielle Kozloff
Other people known to have been involved in this organization, at least in the past, include Shelby White, Edmund Pillsbury, Kate Fitz Gibbon and Prof John Merryman. According to the ACCP's current Statement of purpose, this group is "dedicated to enhancing knowledge and understanding of issues and policies affecting the collecting of works of art by museums and private individuals in the United States and to research, gather and disseminate information relevant to such issues". The primary goals of the Council are as follows:

  •   Develop detailed information and analysis on cultural policies within the United States; assess the effect of federal and state statutes and court decisions and administrative directives, rulings, and guidelines as they relate to cultural property issues, including the protection, ownership, borrowing, lending, buying, and selling of cultural property.
  • Create and distribute information materials and publications on cultural property matters to educational institutions, museums, collectors, legal and other specialists, and professionals concerned with the trade.
  • Create appropriate forums for the discussion of cultural property matters by concerned institutions, groups and individuals and to keep people connected with the American Council aware of changes in the law when possible.
  • It is not at all clear whether, and to what extent, the ACCP ever did achieve any of these aims, which now seem duplicated by other groups. The website seems not to have been updated for a number of years (see here and here for example).


    As this organization experienced a period of decline and inaction, a breakaway organization
    was set up by some former members of the ACCP and run from an office in the 'Fly-over zone', in central Santa Fe. This Cultural Policy Research Institute, has a current board of directors as follows:
    President Arthur A. Houghton III
    Vice-President Kate Fitz Gibbon
    Legal Officer Peter K. Tompa
    Secretary Anne Metcalf
    Its stated aims sound wholly altruistic: "The Cultural Policy Research Institute is dedicated to advancing public education and understanding of issues of cultural property" and is "dedicated to the study of national and international policies to protect and preserve the world's antiquities, monuments, and archaeological sites, and to advance human knowledge for the benefit of all" . It is less clear who that "all" is, one suspects from the tenor of the material it produces it largely means "all US collectors". Note that the mission statement does not actually say what  after having "studied" all those international policies, the target is. Neither is it clear what is understood by the rather broad term "advancing human knowledge". In the first period of its existence, the CPRI ran a number of projects and programmes, but seems not to have done anything much recently and there is a question whether the organization still functions and what it currently does (the website has not been updated for an extensive period of time). The presentation of select legislation (presumably compiled by Peter Tompa) may be useful to some readers. 

    Notably also situated in Santa Fe (though Google-earthing the postcode - Santa Fe NM 87502 - puts it right out in the middle of the desert) is the Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP) this is a U.S. non-profit educational organization, but the website leaves as a secret who is actually involved.  At the March 2012 Asia Society "Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century" event the group was represented by William Perlstein. The Committee's website defines its mission as:
    to address an urgent public need– to bring US cultural policy back to a reasonable middle ground through education, legal initiatives and direct dialogue with museums, scholars and government entities.
    In 2011, art-world academics, legal scholars, and trade specialists formed the Committee for Cultural Policy to evaluate current US policy on art and cultural heritage. The group identified key problems:
    • Conflicting laws create uncertainty for museums and collectors,
    • Secrecy and lack of accountability pervade government cultural agencies,
    • U.S. citizens are prohibited access where foreign domestic markets flourish,
    • Foreign laws ignored in source countries are enforced on U.S. soil,
    • Current policies discourage donations from private collectors to public museums,
    • The U.S. must balance protection of national patrimony and archeological resources with an equally strong focus on U.S. educational interests in the free exchange of art.
    The Committee for Cultural Policy  has a few ideas about how to achieve what it calls a "middle road" and solve the above-identified problems which it has set out in a 2013 so-called "white paper", the "first strategic review of policy from a museum and collector perspective", authored solely by William Perlstein (A Proposal to Reform U.S. Law and Policy Relating to the International Exchange of Cultural Property). Take a look at what these people represent, I'll be examining this controversial document in the next few days. Who else is in this grouping apart from Mr Pearlstein, or is this in fact only a one-man 'organization'? 

    The "Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild", based in Gainesville Missouri, is a "non-profit organization committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity. The goal of the guild is to foster an environment in which the general public can confidently and legally acquire and hold any numismatic item of historical interest regardless of date or place of origin. ACCG strives to achieve its goals through education, political action, and consumer protection".

    It has rather ambitious aims, on its website it lists as just "some" of its aims:
    • To lobby effectively against the imposition of import restrictions on coins of any age or place.
    • To seek, in the event of adverse legislative action, favorable administrative or court interpretations affirming the right of individuals to collect objects from the past.
    • To fight for the continued existence of a free market for all collector coins.
    • To bolster legitimacy of the ancient coin market through establishment of a national dealer code of ethics.
    • To offer the centralized services and advantages of an umbrella organization to regional and local clubs for the purpose of promoting initiatives, sharing resources and coordinating programs of mutual benefit.
    • To establish a far reaching program of public education, through public media, to highlight the accomplishments of private collectors and their contributions to our knowledge and understanding of the past.
    • To develop educational services and opportunities for Young Numismatists and to support the general introduction of ancient history and numismatics into school classroom programs.
    • To work as a consumer advocate for the protection of ancient coin collectors against fraud and unscrupulous business practices.
    • To negotiate member services for collectors under favorable terms based on group rates and consolidated buying power.
    • To nurture a strong sense of identity among ancient coin collectors and to offer an opportunity for collectors to escape the "Robinson Crusoe Syndrome" of feeling alone in their collecting interests.
    Observers of the activities of this group will note that it has not in fact done anything to further most of these aims in any coordinated way (notably providing a reading list - despite several requests, "highlighting the accomplishments of private collectors and their contributions to knowledge and understanding of the past". Perhaps that was an aim which proved unfulfillable? The last point about fostering a "Coiney" identity is of interest, as are the methods by which it is attempted to achieve this.  The 'Officers' are:
    Tom Palmer - President (elected)
    Wayne G. Sayles - Executive Director (for life)
    Bill Puetz
    David R. Sear
    Peter K. Tompa
    David E. Welsh
    Kerry K. Wetterstrom
    The group's activities seem today largely restricted to pursuing a number of conspiracy theories and a pointless courtcase involving an illegal coin import stunt several years ago. The latter is limping now to its final stages and it is unclear what the group plans to do when it finishes.

    The Cultural Property Advisory Committee. I would like to say that this organization (instituted by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act) actually does provide advice to the US administration on cultural property policy. Its name is however a misnomer, and it was set up purely to fulfil a single task within the system.

    The United States of America has no governmental body in the administration equivalent to the Ministry of Culture of most other countries, which is part of its problems.
    * * *
    There seems to be a pattern emerging here. It appears that in the US dealers and collectors are worried about the efforts being made to clean up to some extent the US antiquities market, largely ineffective as they in fact are. Presumably (and despite what their organizations insist that their aims "are") they consider this a threat to the carefree way they are accustomed to handling antiquities.

    Let us note however that this concerns mainly antiquities imported to the USA  from other countries - these groups never seem to reach out to  US metal detectorists and arrowhead collectors in order to work together in discussing and presenting the case for collectors' rights.  A principle reason for this is of course that incorporating domestic artrefact hunters in the discussion makes it more difficult to present the issues as purely an "over there" problem, where the pesky and ultimately unworthy foreigners are infringing on US rights, and the US gubn'mint is not protecting the US citizen's rights to plunder by not holding out against their expectations of the US. This is their preferred ploy. Actually defending all US antiquity collectors' "rights" would instead place the discussion in the context of the preservation of the archaeological record and historic environment. It seems to me that this isolationist tendency of such groups should be resisted, they are a refusal to treat the issues honestly in the wider context. They are attempting to evoke nationalism (the very nationalism they criticise in the foreigners) and individual "rights" instead of focussing on the environmental issues and sustainable use (management) of a finite resource.

    In the same way, these groups noticeably all focus on the legal, and only the legal aspects of the problem. This is a tacit admission that collectors and dealers really could not give two hoots about the moral and ethical issues involved, their sole concern is to stay within the letter of the law, even if that means exploiting the many loopholes in the existing laws (see the recent discussion on what - legally - constitutes "ethnological objects", as if that were the most important point in discussing US cultural policy and ideology). In reality in the US antiquities trade the legality that is evoked however is more often than not a "they-can't-touch-you-for-it-legality", in other words, doing that which is not-illegal. Of course the problem for that type of business is the danger that they are dealing with  a "they-can't-touch-you-for-it-at-the-moment-legality" if the laws are revised to become more effective at preserving what they are instituted to preserve from damaging commercial exploitation.

    For this reason,  there is no discussion here of issues such as sustainability, resource management, moral responsibilities within the market (it's legal innit?) and related topics. Attention focus on maintaining a legal status quo, or returning to some anachronistic vision of the golden take-take years of colonialism and 'partage'.

    Yet each of these organizations does its level best to hide that. The mission statements are carefully crafted to sound altruistic to attract sponsors and support. They declare their aims as "educational", they want to enlighten the public, bring them culture, tell them about their problems as collectors on a cultural mission - hindered by those nasty twisted and biased radical preservationists. They will not tell you what they are really up to - which can be seen as basically attempting to undermine US efforts to help protect the global heritage in a global (that is not purely object-centred) manner.

    Fortunately another tendency can be observed, the dealers' lobbyist organizations are somewhat incestuous, they all make the same points, attack the same imagined problems with the US administration of its fragmentary cultural policy (sometimes at personal level), and the same people are involved in a number of these groups. They also arise with a great fanfare, conduct a couple of 'actions' and then fade away within a few years. Obviously they find it difficult keeping up the interest and support of US collectors and dealers (a fickle bunch) by whatever scare tactics or gentle persuasion they use. It is less easy to determine whether the effects of their activities are as ephemeral as the groups themselves.

    Certainly, so far these groups have gone into decline well before they have even begun anything that can be termed 'dialogue' in an effort to come jointly to some kind of agreement or compromise. They want to 'go it alone' in constant opposition, and if the truth were known, it would very soon appear in any attempt at dialogue, that - although they are very vociferous in presenting their demands and finding fault with others - they in fact have not "studied" the problem to the degree needed to have more than the barest inkling of understanding of the issues as seen by the other side in any future discussions. It is far easier for them to have and propagate stereotypical pictures of their "opponents" rather than face up to the wider reality.

    Vignette: Talkshop

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