Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Perspective on CPAC and the Interim Review of the Italian MOU

Kerry Wetterstom, the publisher of the Celator, a journal devoted to Ancient and Medieval coins, has written about his experiences at the recent CPAC meeting to address the interim review of the Italian MOU. In the "Editor's note" in the January 2010 issue, he states:

On the morning of November 13th, I had the opportunity to attend and give an oral statement at the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) hearing for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy. This hearing was conducted at the Department of State, Annex Building, in Washington, DC. The MOU with Italy is up for renewal in 2010, and this hearing was one of the preliminary steps in the process, an “interim review” as it has been deemed by the U.S. State Department.

This was the first such hearing that I have attended, and it was an interesting, albeit a bit frustrating, experience. I came away from this hearing with the strong belief that the odds are against the ancient coin collecting community in receiving a “fair shake” from the U.S. Department of State, specifically its Cultural Heritage Center office, at these CPAC hearings.

The three speakers representing collectors and dealers were invited to speak first, each speaker was limited to five minutes, and we were informed that this would be strictly enforced. William Pearlstein, an attorney that represents certain New York City antiquities dealers, spoke first, and was dutifully cutoff at 5 minutes. Peter K. Tompa, representing the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), was next, and he did an excellent job of both summarizing his position paper, and casually passing around to the CPAC members a late Roman bronze of Licinius I, vetted through the British Portable Antiquities Scheme, and then legally imported into the U.S.

Next up was yours truly (representing the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild), and though I entered the hearing with a bit of trepidation, the hearing’s casual atmosphere had a calming effect on my nerves. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to finish reading the two-page statement that I had prepared, and after answering a couple of questions from the committee, I walked back to my seat thinking that this was the fastest five minutes I had ever experienced. Later, several people commented to me that they believed I had been cutoff before the end of my allotted time.

As the morning progressed, the members of CPAC heard statements from four speakers representing the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), four speakers that spoke on behalf of the archaeological community, and finally, Dr. Stefano De Caro, from the Italian Ministry of Culture, gave a long, perhaps 30 minutes, presentation on behalf of the Italian government. (At this point, it was obvious that the five-minute rule had been abandoned, at least for those that spoke in favor of import restrictions.)

Finally, although the Public Notice for this CPAC hearing specifically stated that “oral comments must be limited to Article II of this MOU” with Italy, which deals with the implementation and obligations of the Italian government in respect to the current MOU, speakers from the archaeological community were allowed to lobby for the inclusion of ancient coins, presently exempted, in the renewal of the MOU with Italy.

Based on this experience, I now know that the best option that the ancient coin collecting community has for a “fair hearing,” where we won’t be limited to five minutes or less, is through the court system. This is the option that ACCG is currently pursuing, the option that we have conducted two successful benefit auctions for so as to raise much needed legal funds, and unless there is a dramatic “shake-up” at the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center office, it is the only viable option that is available to us in the foreseeable future.

Comment: Maria Kouroupas, CPAC's executive director, kept time and dictated when the allowed 5 minutes had elapsed. In my opinion, it is wrong to invite citizens to travel at the cost of significant time and some expense to Washington, D.C. to speak for such a short time and then rudely cut them off--- particularly when the "5 minute rule" is not applied equally.

In any event, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair's Cultural Heritage Center is already widely perceived in the collecting community as completely biased in favor of archaeologists and repatriation hungry foreign governments. Experiences like those of Kerry Wetterstrom can only confirm that perception in the eyes of many "cultural property observers."

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