Rutelli, Repatriation and Cultural Policy

Lee Rosenbaum has some very interesting things to say over at Culturegrrl on the press conference Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli had yesterday at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York.

First, as Lee says,

Robert Stiriti (second from left, above), attaché at the American Embassy in Rome for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told me that criminal charges “are pending” in Italy (but have not yet been filed) against an American private collector who owned several objects (including the marble sarcophagus of a child) recovered by ICE on Oct. 20 from his New York residence.

Also, Rutelli announced there may be a forthcoming agreement between Italy and Princeton concerning some objects, which would likely involve some loans from Italy.

The two cornerstones of recent Italian repatriation efforts have been the threat of prosecution along with cultural loans if objects are returned. It’s a strategy that has worked quite well. The engine behind these efforts is the political goodwill engendered in Italy when objects are returned. That seems to make Italy unique, perhaps in all the world, where cultural policy matters.

It brings to mind a time when perhaps cultural policy mattered in America.

There’s been a lot of discussion about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Pentagon of late. I always enjoy stories of the Works Project Administration making art and building places like Red Rocks and The Supreme Court Building during the great depression. Steve Vogel has been making the rounds on npr and the daily show for his new book The Pentagon: The Untold Story. They broke ground on the building 3 months before Pearl Harbor (on September 11, 1941). The initial site was supposed to be opposite the Lincoln Memorial. But President Roosevelt was pressured by the fine arts commission to move the building site. They didn’t want to disturb the vista between Lee’s Mansion and the Lincoln memorial. The President who led America through the great depression and WWII stopped to consider the view for future generations. I couldn’t imagine the current executive taking such considerations; I think that tells volumes about how cultural policy has changed dramatically.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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