I took extensive notes at last Thursday's Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting. Due to the length of the hearing, I've decided to break up my report into segments. Here is the first. I will continue in subsequent posts:
On May 6, 2010, the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee met to hear public comments about the proposed renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Italy and its import restrictions on cultural goods of Greek and Roman cultures. Although it remains unclear whether Italy has formally requested that the MOU be amended to include import restrictions on coins, that issue dominated the hearing. CPAC members also heard testimony about the one-sidedness of the current MOU, the benefits of the MOU to the archaeological community, and a debate whether Italy has complied with its obligations to provide long term loans to museums that have not already repatriated artifacts.
CPAC heard from twenty (20) speakers about the MOU, including a representative of the Italian Ministry of Culture. Of these nine (9) speakers opposed various aspects of the MOU or its possible extension to coins and eleven (11) supported it.
Chairwoman Katherine Reid invited Stefano de Caro, an archaeologist with the Italian Ministry of Culture, to speak first. He indicated that the looting situation has improved somewhat due to the work of the Carabinieri, but looting is now a criminal enterprise that relies on illegal aliens as diggers. There are improved surveys of sites, including ones using helicopters. There is also an effort to send repatriated art back to museums at the sites from which it was looted. Preventative archaeology has also become important. Developers now pay for excavations. De Caro hopes for a good resolution of the difficult matter of coins. CPAC member Robert Korver (Trade) asked de Caro about budget cuts. De Caro indicated they are a real concern at his ministry. He also indicated there was some discussion of a special “landscape protection” tax to help fund his ministry.
Alex Nyerges of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts spoke next on behalf of the AAMD. He reported on a survey of AAMD members concerning long term loans of archaeological artifacts from Italy. [The current MOU contemplates that Italy will make such loans available to museums.] Nyerges indicated that of the twenty-one (21) museums that responded only five (5) had received long term loans, and each of these museums had voluntarily repatriated artifacts. He further indicated such loans should ideally be for periods of ten (10) to twenty (20) years and not be tied to conservation projects. He hoped the Italian government would be more proactive in setting up loans. Nyerges then referenced an AAMD report on looted works from the Fascist era in Italy. Finally, he advocated the sale of excess artifacts from Italian stores. CPAC member Joan Connelly (archaeology) wondered if two (2) year loans would be preferable as they could be changed out more frequently. Nyerges indicated the associated costs and logistical problems make such loans unpalatable. CPAC member Nancy Wilkie (archaeology) asked Nyerges about the response rate for the survey. He indicated that the response rate was good for museums that held ancient art.
To be continued.