Paolo Ferri and Jason Felch on Wikiloot

ARCA’s Annual Conference in Amelia

Tom Kington reports for the Guardian on the efforts of Jason Felch to use crowdsourcing to help police the antiquities trade with wikiloot:

Felch now plans to obtain and post piles of material seized from dealers during police raids and deposited for trials which have yet to be published, and let allcomers mine the data for new clues. “It’s all raw, unprocessed data. Researchers can use it, but we also hope the public can use it to find out a bit more about what is on display at their local museum,” he said. . . .

 “We will also need a few hundred thousand dollars,” added Felch, who is applying for grants, talking to universities and promoting the concept this month at the annual conference in Italy of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA). . . . 

With an estimated 500,000 artefacts looted from Italy to date, one Italian investigator – Paolo Ferri, a magistrate now working at Italy’s culture ministry – said any attempt to track them down was welcome. He was cautious about aspects of the crowdsourcing concept, claiming that publishing images or descriptions of looted artefacts could push their collectors to hide them better. “They may also work harder to camouflage the origins of their pieces or even access the archive to manipulate it,” Ferri said. “Why not have a password to keep traffickers out?”

Both Felch and Ferri are slated to appear at ARCA’s annual conference here in Amelia in a few weeks on June 23-24. The report makes it appear as if Felch has been invited to discuss wikiloot. He is welcome of course to discuss the initiative, but the primary purpose of his invitation is to honor his writing and reporting. He and Ralph Frammolino will be honored for the terrific reporting they have done, which culminated in Chasing Aphrodite, and the blog which has continued that good work.

Conference attendees will have an opportunity to hear more about Felch’s plans for wikiloot, and though Ferri and others share misgivings, the conference will allow an opportunity to listen and take into account those concerns. One of the aims for ARCA’s annual conference is to bring folks together and foster a productive exchange.

  1. Tom Kington, WikiLoot aims to use crowdsourcing to track down stolen ancient artefacts, the Guardian, June 6, 2012,
ARCA’s annual conference is free to attend, and open to the general public. For any questions about the conference please contact me at
Questions or Comments? Email me at

The Third Annual ARCA Conference Last Weekend

Neil Brodie, accepting his ARCA award 

This past weekend ARCA held its annual conference just off the medieval cloister here in Amelia, Italy. As part of the conference ARCA presents its awards to those whose research or work has made a contribution to the field of art and heritage protection. These are nominated by and voted on by ARCA’s Trustees and past award winners.

Two of our award winners were able to make it in person this year. Neil Brodie received an award for his scholarship. Neil joined ARCA for the first six weeks of the summer as a writer in residence, offering lectures to students and working on his next piece. But the highlight of the conference for me might have been the standing ovation the students gave him when he won his award. Neil has of course written extensively on the looting of antiquities and their eventual sale. He has conducted archaeological fieldwork and was the former director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. His terrific writing on the illicit trade in antiquities stands as a thoughtful and passionate cry for the preservation of a vanishing and finite resource.

Paolo Ferri

Paolo Ferri was also presented an award for policing and recovery. Dr. Ferri has been a prominent figure in the return of many looted antiquities from North American public and private collections. He now serves as an expert in international relations and recovery of works of art for the Italian Culture Ministry. This was Ferri’s first award for all of his work. The man who played such a large role in the return of so many beautiful antiquities to Italy had a quiet and direct manner and throughout the weekend was quick with a smile. He offered some interesting suggestions for future policy, including an International Art Court, but what struck me more than anything was his almost polite insistence for obeying legal and ethical principles. 

The other award winners who were unable to attend were Lord Colin Renfrew, and Prof. John Henry Merryman. 

Lord Renfrew has been a tireless voice in the struggle for the prevention of looting of archaeological sites, and one of the most influential archaeologists in recent decades. At Cambridge he was formerly Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Prof. Merryman is a renowned expert on art and cultural property law who has written beautifully about art and heritage for many years. He currently serves as an Emeritus Professor at Stanford Law School. He adds this award to his impressive list of awards, including the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and honorary doctorates from Aix-en Provence, Rome (Tor Vergata), and Trieste. His textbook Law, Ethics, and the Visual Arts, first published in 1979 with Albert Elsen, stands as the leading art law text. His writings have shaped the way we think about art and cultural disputes, and have added clarity and rigor to a field he helped pioneer.

Joni on the left, during a break  on Saturday

It was a terrific conference thanks in large part to Joni’s terrific planning, and I hope she’ll forgive me for dragging her into this undertaking. Thanks as well go to the ARCA staff who worked very hard to make things run smoothly, all of the presenters, students and attendees. These folks made for a super weekend.

Many of these issues can quickly get contentious, but the weekend allowed for plenty of opportunities for discussion, polite disagreement, and conversation. Next year’s conference will likely be a few weeks earlier, in June, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

For those who are interested, the schedule of presentations is posted below the jump:

Friday, July 8th

7:00 pm Welcome Event: Cocktails at Palazzo Farratini

Saturday, July 9th (Sala Boccarrini)

8:00 am – Conference Registration
8:30 am – Opening Remarks

9:00 am – 10:30 am Harmonising Police Cooperation and Returns
9:00 am – 9:20 am Arthur Tompkins, “Paying a Ransom: The Theft of 96 Rare Medals and the Reward Payments”
9:20 am – 9:40 am Ludo Block, “European Police Cooperation on Art Crime”
9:40 am – 10:00 am Saskia Hufnagel, “Harmonising Police Cooperation in the Field of Art Crime in Australia and the European Union”
10:00 am – 10:20 am Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

10:20 am – 10:40 am Coffee Break

10:40 am – 12:00 pm Perspectives on Forgery and the Local Impact of Heritage Crime
10:40 am – 11:00 am Laurie Rush, “Art Crime; Effects of a Global Issue at the Community Level”
11:00 am – 11:20 am Duncan Chappell, “Forgery of Australian Aboriginal Art”
11:40 am – 12:00 pm Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Lunch Break and Snacks in the Cloister

1:00 pm – 2:40 pm Historical Perspectives on Looting and Recovery
1:00 pm – 1:20 pm Maria Elena Versari, “Iconoclasm by (Legal) Proxy: Restoration, Legislation and the Ideological Decay of Fascist Ruins”
1:20 pm – 1:40 pm Annika Kuhn, “The Looting of Cultural Property: A View from Classical Antiquity”
1:40 pm – 2:00 pm Elena Franchi, “Under the Protection of the Holy See: The Florentine Works of Art and Their Moving to Alto Adige in 1944”
2:00 pm – 2:20 pm Charlotte Woodhead, “Assessing the Moral Strength of Holocaust Art Restitution Claims”
2:20 pm – 2:40 pm Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

2:40 pm – 3:00 pm Coffee Break

3:00 pm – 4:30 pm ARCA Annual Awards
Neil Brodie
Paolo Ferri
Awards in absentia to Lord Colin Renfrew and John Henry Merryman

4:30 pm – 6:30 Writers of Art Crime
4:30 pm – 5:00 pm Vernon Silver
5:00 pm – 5:30 pm Fabio Isman
5:30 pm – 6:00 pm Peter Watson
6:00 pm – 6:30 pm Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

8:00 pm Gala Dinner at Locanda

Sunday, July 10th

8:30 am – 10:10 am Fresh Perspectives on Art and Heritage Crime
8:30 am – 8:50 am Leila Amineddoleh, “The Pillaging of the Abandoned Spanish Countryside”
8:50 am – 9:10 am Courtney McWhorter, “Perception of Forgery According to the Role of Art”
9:10 am – 9:30 am Michelle D’Ippolito, “Discrepancies in Data: The Role of Museums in Recovering Stolen Works of Art”
9:30 am – 9:50 am Sarah Zimmer, “The Investigation of Object TH 1988.18: Rembrandt’s 100 Guilder Print”
9:50 am – 10:10 am Panel Discussions and Questions from the Audience

10:10 am – 10:30 am Coffee Break

10:30 am – 11:30 am Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict
10:30 pm – 10:50 pm Mark Durney
10:50 pm – 11:10 pm Larry Rothfield
11:10 pm – 11:30 pm Katharyn Hanson
11:30 pm – 11:50 pm Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

11:50 am – 12:10 pm Coffee Break

12:10 pm – 1:30 pm 40-year Anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Panel
12:10 pm – 12:30 pm Catherine Sezgin
12:30 pm – 1 pm Chris Marinello
1:00 pm – 1:20 pm Panel Discussion and Questions from the Audience

1:30 pm End of the Conference

Presenters who were unable to attend:

Richard Altman, “Christie’s Failure to Accurately Attribute a Leonardo da Vinci Painting in 1997”
Ruth Redmond-Cooper, “Limitation of Actions to Recover Cultural Objects”
Norman Palmer 2009 ARCA Award Recipient
Phyllis Callina, “Historic Forgeries”

Questions or Comments? Email me at