This week I attended an interesting seminar put on by the State Department's new Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee (CHCC) that took place at the Smithsonian Institution. There were some really enjoyable programs about preservation work, and it was nice to have the opportunity to meet others with different perspectives. However, CPO still came away concerned that legitimate collecting is more at risk than ever by grossly over-broad application of cultural heritage laws which Congress originally intended to focus prospectively on specific looting problems in specific countries abroad.
I don't have time to summarize the entire symposium, but here are some of my takeaways:
1. ISIS may have been defeated on the battlefield, but the terror group still looms large as the justification for all sorts of efforts that impinge on the due process and private property rights of collectors. The latest claim is that while ISIS may have lost most, if not all, of its territory, it has been warehousing large numbers of valuable artifacts with which to fund its ongoing jihad.
2. The State Department and law enforcement coordinate heavily with academics and related advocacy groups which are largely hostile to private collecting of antiquities. Even though the statute that set up the CHCC calls for the committee to coordinate with the trade in addition to cultural heritage groups, there appears to be little evidence of consultations with the trade. (CPO was happy to get invited, but he was not there for a dealer group.) This should be particularly troubling because it has certainly contributed to overboard application of cultural heritage laws in a matter hostile to even legitimate collecting.
will be ramped up in the next 18 months, which should be a major concern given the increasing number of cultural property agreements, how broad they have become and how broadly they are enforced. Apparently, the State Department (with the help of the archaeological lobby) is working on five new agreements with Middle Eastern countries (most, if not all, of which have authoritarian governments which claim title to anything and everything "old.") Moreover, there still is no up-to-date guidance for the public in this area, though U.S. Customs at least realizes this is a problem.
and Homeland Security Investigations are on board with archaeological advocacy groups' and certain compliance vendors' efforts to impose new anti-money laundering (AML) regulations specifically on the art trade because AML violations may be used to pile on charges and encourage guilty pleas. Still, the evidence presented that money laundering is a real
problem in the art trade remains very slim and largely depends on conflating money
laundering with other financial crimes.
5. The Smithsonian has done lots of good work on cultural heritage preservation and restoration projects, but has also joined the cultural property wars on the side of archaeological advocacy groups and has lobbied with them in their legislative efforts that have harmed the legitimate trade in cultural artifacts.