The U.S. is a leading market for art and antiquities — both legitimate, and unfortunately, illicit. By cutting off, or at least restricting, the import of looted and stolen cultural objects into the U.S., states can deal an effective blow against the black market in antiquities. Beyond the ability to impose import restrictions, bilateral agreements provide for mutual cooperation, as well as technical and even financial assistance for states. And from the U.S. perspective, they not only act in America’s interest of cutting off criminal activity at its borders, but also support its long-term policy goals of strengthening relationships with other nations.
Representatives of the Antiquities Coalition joined members of the US and Italian cultural heritage protection communities on Wednesday March 23rd at the Embassy of Italy to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Italy-U.S. Memorandum of Understanding for Heritage Protection and Cultural Cooperation.
In welcoming remarks, newly appointed Ambassador of Italy to the United States Armando Varricchio emphasized the growing international ethic of diplomacy in the service of culture. Highlighting the benefits of intergovernmental cooperation for heritage protection, particularly in the arena of law enforcement, Ambassador Varricchio attested an ‘amazing quality and quantity of recent successes,’ recently, particularly in light of the recent establishment of the United Nations Blue Helmets for Culture.
Thereafter Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, spoke on the critical role cultural heritage plays in the construction of identity and the importance of place. Outlining the MOU’s goals and the means with which the U.S. and Italy are achieving them, she spoke of the congenial relationships the MOU has solidified. Though “In reality, we are accomplishing more and more,” Assistant Secretary Ryan emphasized the need to find new ways to protect heritage.
Among a roster of prominent individuals from the public and academic sectors of the cultural heritage community, Raymond Villanueva (Deputy Assistant Director, International Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, Department of Homeland Security) spoke on the strength of the relationship between U.S. and Italian heritage protection authorities as well as the importance of intensely monitoring the provenance of antiquities in the U.S. and global art markets.
In the most qualitatively illuminating remarks of the evening, Major Massimo Maresca (Carabineri Command for the Safeguarding of Cultural Patrimony) spoke on the need to emphasize looting prevention as much as the suppression of trade in illicit antiquities. Major Maresca further underscored a need to focus on the receivers and middlemen of the looted antiquities market, in addition to looters and buyers. The total number of known illegal digs in Italy has been effectively reduced, in large part by the efforts of the Carabineri TPC, from 810 in 1990 to 49 in 2014. New partnerships, such as an emerging looting detection initiative utilizing European Space Agency satellite imagery, will help to guarantee the continuance of current success in discouraging the trade of illicit antiquities. Major Maresca indicated that 78% of recovered illicit antiquities confiscated in transit from Italy were bound for the United States, further accentuating the importance of the MOU’s renewal.
For more information about the MOU and its renewal, read the following excerpt and follow the link below to the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs press release:
ABOUT THE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
On January 19, 2016 the Governments of Italy and the United States extended for the third time the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Imposition of Import Restriction on Categories of Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy.
Italian and U.S. officials will present this important tool, which not only continues a legal means to fight art trafficking, but also offers a unique framework in which to strengthen cultural cooperation through several academic, scientific and educational initiatives.
The presentation was part of the “Protecting our Heritage” series of events organized by the Washington cluster of the European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) under the 2016 Italian presidency
For more information on the memorandum extension please visit the following links: