Lee Rosenbaum, arts journalist and fellow blogger at culturegrrl has an Op-Ed in today’s LA Times titled “Make art loans, not war” in which she argues for increased loans from Italy and Greece, a more collaborative relationship between North American “Universal” museums, and an increase in what she calls “citizen archaeology” along the lines of the portable antiquities scheme in England and Wales.
It’s a well written piece, but it strikes me as a compilation of a lot of other scholarship. I suppose it’s a journalists prerogative to take the work of scholars and researchers and reconfigure it in a more digestible (i.e. better written) form, but it does strike me as a bit unfair that she gets to take credit for some ideas which have been persuasively and compellingly articulated elsewhere. I’d like to point out some of the theoretical foundations for the ideas that Rosenbaum articulates.
John Merryman has long been a champion of “cultural property internationalism“, and Kwame Anthony Appiah also made a compelling argument for a similar kind of idea in his recent work, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
Antiquities leasing is a particularly interesting idea, and it’s one that’s received some interesting attention recently, including an article by Peter Wendel, a law Professor at Pepperdine University, as well as a recent working paper by Michael Kremer and Tom Wilkening who argue from an economic perspective that long-term leasing of antiquities would allow source nations to earn much-needed revenue from their antiquities, but would preserve their own long-term ownership interests. I’ve even argued here that the agreements forged by the Getty, the MFA Boston, the Met, Princeton, and Yale with Peru are essentially leasing agreements between the two sides. Clearly, the custom established by these agreements leads to the idea of leasing as a workable solution to these intractable disputes.
I found Rosenbaum’s argument for citizen archaeology particularly interesting:
More controversially, I believe that source countries should consider training and licensing citizen archaeologists. The antiquities police can’t hope to end all the looting or shut down the black market completely. But if those who make finds are compensated for reporting them and perhaps trained to help excavate them, midnight marauders who mangle masterpieces and destroy archaeological context may become less numerous and destructive. One precedent for the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach is Britain’s financial compensation of metal detector-wielding amateurs who turn over significant finds including gold, silver and prehistoric objects to the proper authorities.
This is a subject upon which I’ve written, and what she’s referring to here is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the Treasure Act. Their flickr site is particularly interesting, which is where I found the image above of a Roman horseman found in Cambridgeshire last year. The PAS operates only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland is not a part of the scheme. Unfortunately the PAS is in danger due to budget restrictions and funding for the London Olympics.
I discuss the PAS and the idea of rewarding finders of objects in some detail in my recent article WHY U.S. FEDERAL CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR DEALING IN ILLICIT CULTURAL PROPERTY ARE INEFFECTIVE, AND A PRAGMATIC ALTERNATIVE, 25 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 597 (2007), available on Lexis and Westlaw. I think she may be under a mis-impression regarding the scheme. The PAS encourages voluntary reporting of finds for those objects which fall outside the scope of the Treasure Act. The scheme has created a massive community archaeology project for objects which are found on private lands and do not belong to the Crown. There has always been a requirement in England and Wales to return valuable metal objects to the Crown, however the introduction of the scheme dramatically increased compliance with the law. Based on this, I argue that it’s not enough for a source nation to declare ownership; to effectively protect sites it must also erect appropriate mechanisms to promote compliance with those ownership declarations. When a metal detector finds a valuable piece of gold on private land (detecting on scheduled monuments is strictly forbidden) the finder is entitled to an award, which thus encourages the reporting of finds. However, such a system may not work in all source nations, as you do not want to encourage haphazard looting. As a result the PAS and the Treasure Act are important policy solutions to consider, but are not a cure-all for the antiquities trade.
In short, there has been a great deal of attention placed on the return of objects to Italy, but nearly all these returns, and certainly the most valuable and significant objects, were returned based on substantial evidence, often photographs, which indicate the objects in question had been illegally excavated. The Medici Conspiracy details the investigation. These returns to Italy are the product of a massive investigation of a single commercial stream (albeit a substantial one) from Italy to North America. The challenge for cultural policy makers is to think about the other source nations and other transactions. Rosenbaum rightly points out some of the innovative potential solutions to these dilemmas, I just think it’s regrettable that the Op-Ed forum doesn’t allow her to reference some of the important work she may have relied on to formulate her thoughts.
Rosenbaum responds to me here, and also posts reactions from a “prominent curator” and David Gill.