UNCAC Coalition Adds Antiquities Coalition to its Growing Roster of Global Anti-Corruption Organizations

For centuries, civilizations have undertaken efforts to protect and preserve their cultural heritage as enemies have sought to strip it from them. The illicit trade in art and antiquities continues today—and law enforcement and government agencies are struggling to keep up as corruption runs rampant.

The Antiquities Coalition is thrilled to announce that it has joined the UNCAC Coalition, a leading anti-corruption network. This global coalition includes over 350 civil society organizations (CSOs) in over 100 countries committed to promoting the ramification, implementation, and monitoring of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). UNCAC Coalition members work in anti-corruption, human rights, labor rights, governance, economic development, environment, and private sector accountability.

Anti-corruption organizations play an important role in ending cultural racketeering to protect ethical collectors and consumers. Being part of this network will allow the Antiquities Coalition to collaborate with like-minded organizations that can effectively push for anti-corruption legislation and the inclusion of antiquities trafficking in the UNCAC framework. 

The Antiquities Coalition continues to advocate for international governments to close loopholes in the art market regulation that allows for corruption and other financial crimes and looks forward to collaborating with the UNCAC Coalition to achieve these goals.

AC Joins Global Leaders At CEA Event to Discuss the Role of Museums

Cultural heritage is critical to telling stories and sharing the rich history of civilizations worldwide. As the illicit trade in art and antiquities continues at a rapid pace, it is essential to uncover ways to preserve and protect our shared history.

While collectors, governments, law enforcement, and more can assist in ending these crimes, museums play a unique role as intermediaries between cultures. As trusted institutions, museums must collect these artifacts legally and ethically to share and connect our stories.

On May 18 and 19, the Antiquities Coalition joined the China-Europe-America Initiative and other global leaders for an event to commemorate International Museum Day. The “Third Dialogue: Museums as Cultural Intermediaries in the Dialogue Between Civilizations” featured conversations about how museums can better preserve and protect art and antiquities.

Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized the power of museums in her opening remarks:

“Museums have a unique ability—and responsibility—to harness the power of cultural heritage. Responsible cultural exchange can foster mutual understanding, appreciation, and respect. The lawful and ethical collection and trade in antiquities can do the same, so long as it does not harm local communities, disrupt the historical record, or fund crime, conflict, or violent extremism. Finally, repatriation can serve as a bridge between cultures, and moreover, an opportunity to right past wrongs.”

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to seeing how these discussions will strengthen international museum practices and global policies to fight the illicit antiquities trade.Learn more about the event here.

Scaling Up: AC Hosts Digitization and Preservation Training for Museums

Unprecedented registration as over 1100 sign on 

Over 1100 individuals registered for the Antiquities Coalition’s most recent Arabic-language training on digitization, documentation, and preservation strategies for museums—an unprecedented number and a robust indication of the global need for cultural heritage preservation instruction.

The AC worked with longtime partners at the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF), whose Chairman, Abdelhamid Salah, designed and led three days of instruction with the EHRF team. The project was conceived by the AC and EHRF to appeal to a broad audience.

“We set out thinking about training at scale, and how we could reach a significantly larger audience,” explained Peter Herdrich, the AC’s Co-founder and the project’s executive director. “We made the training free, online, and in Arabic, all to reach an underserved audience. And we worked with some of the best and most well-known trainers in the Arabic-speaking world. I think those approaches drove registration.”

“We take the time to train in a number of skills,” explained Mr. Salah. “It is a three-day training, and we discuss digitization, documentation, collections stabilization, and data and museum management. Our goal is to provide value by teaching the important concepts and practical applications of heritage preservation for museums and to open more approaches for collaboration.”

The training regime is part of a project organized by the AC, EHRF, and the Algerian Ministry of Culture and the Arts, generously sponsored by the US Embassy in Algiers and the US State Department’s Cultural Property Agreement Implementation Grant (CPAIG) program. This online instruction is the first step in a more in-depth training program with Algerian museum partners, including the upcoming installation of a digitization laboratory at the Bardo Museum in Algiers and two weeks of in-person advanced training with EHRF and AC instructors in Algeria.

 “Our cultural heritage preservation work shows us that there are a vast number of heritage colleagues longing for skills development. To provide that service in a timely and successful way, we need to scale up all our efforts,” said Herdrich. “Whether it is training, digital infrastructure, or responses to conflict, we need to recognize the risks to culture under threat and go.”

For more information, contact Ms. Abir Chorfa at achorfa@theantiquitescoalition.org.

For more information about collaboration on advanced training projects in museum, library, archive, and manuscript skills and infrastructure and other cultural heritage preservation projects, contact Peter Herdrich at pherdrich@theantiquitiescoalition.org.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Signals Major Shift In its Approach to Contested Antiquities

Decision Follows Growing Number of Seizures, Investigations, and Prosecutions Targeting Its Collections 

The Antiquities Coalition welcomes statements from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) committing to new policies and practices on ancient art and artifacts, including a recognition from Director Max Hollein that “Whatever unlawfully entered our collection, should not be in our collection.” The pledges mark a reversal from the Met’s earlier stance, which largely resisted calls to probe looted and stolen pieces within the institution’s walls. The Antiquities Coalition has been at the forefront of these requests, urging the museum to take “strong, concrete, and immediate action” in response to recent scandals, joining such varied voices as law enforcement, investigative journalists, activists, and even comedians like John Oliver. 

The Met’s plan, announced May 9 in The New York Times, includes hiring a provenance research team of four experts to audit its holdings, as well as forming a committee of 18 curators, conservators, and others to review all legal and ethical guidelines. The museum would also work to “convene thought leaders, advocates and opinion makers” in the field. These efforts align with specific recommendations outlined by the Antiquities Coalition, such as launching a task force, building capacity in provenance research, strengthening best practices, and using the institution’s platform both to raise awareness of the problem and to find solutions. Once implemented, these steps could set a new global standard, given the Met’s position as the largest and most visited art museum in the Western hemisphere.

Hollein, the Met’s Director, specifically committed to “broaden, expedite and intensify research into all works that came to the museum from art dealers who have been under investigation.” He estimated this number would total several hundred objects or more. A recent exposé from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that at least 1,109 pieces in the museum’s catalog have close ties to individuals indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes—309 of which remained on display. It is not clear whether the latter items are the priorities to which Hollein referred, but the Met has 1.5 million works in its total collection, which span some 5,000 years of human history.

The Antiquities Coalition appreciates that the Met and its leadership are listening to public calls to strengthen transparency and due diligence. The institution, with an endowment of $3.3 billion and an annual budget of around $300 million, can and should be the gold standard in the United States and even the world. Concrete actions like those announced this week would go far to making that goal a reality.

AC’s Tess Davis Shares Advice for Students Interested In Cultural Heritage Careers

The field of cultural heritage is made up of many different disciplines and focus topics, including archaeology, museums, art crime, international trade in looted antiquities, antiquities repatriation, and heritage tourism. The collective work of these fields is critical to preserving and protecting our shared history for future generations. 

To introduce students to rewarding careers in the cultural heritage field, Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, joined fellow experts during a roundtable event at Boston University (BU) to discuss their professional experience and answer questions about how to get started in the field. 

“Ask the Experts: Career Paths in Cultural Heritage Management” featured Davis alongside:

  • Dr. Chris Jasparro, Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department and Director of the Africa Regional Studies Group at the Naval War College.
  • Victoria Reed, the Sadler Curator for Provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
  • Susan de Menil, the founding co-president of the Art, Antiquities, and Blockchain Consortium (AABC), a nonprofit 501(c)3 that uses blockchain-based infrastructure to guide the future of cultural heritage repatriation.
  • Anthony Amore, an internationally recognized expert in the security realm, previously holding positions at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the U.S. Immigration Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Security Division.
  • Ricardo Elia, Associate Professor of Archaeology in the College of Arts and Sciences, Boston University.

Davis, an alumni of BU, collaborated with Robert E. Murowchuck, Director of Undergraduate Studies of BU’s Archaeology Program, to organize the event. For students interested in pursuing a career in cultural heritage, learn more about the Antiquities Coalition’s internship program.

Met Gala Looks vs. Loot

AC Compares Couture Outfits to Contested Artifacts in Campaign Urging Met to Reevaluate Role in Illicit Trade

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is synonymous with the famous ornate structure on 5th Avenue in New York City and with halls and halls of masterpieces from Egyptian Sarcophagi to Van Gogh portraits. But despite its honorable mission, the Met is implicated in a growing number of scandals, investigations, and criminal prosecutions surrounding its collection.

Last night, as glittering celebrities attended the annual Met Gala dressed in couture, the AC was spotlighting some of the contested objects that have been seized and repatriated from the collection of America’s largest art collection in looks vs. loot. While the Met Gala gives us an occasion for satire, we must continue to ask serious questions about museums.

The Antiquities Coalition has long called for “strong, concrete, and immediate action” from the Met, including other specific recommendations that the museum could take to regain public trust. This is even more critical given revelations from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that at least 1,109 pieces in the museum’s catalog have close ties to individuals indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes. 309 of these suspect artifacts remained on display.

The Antiquities Coalition, as leaders in the fight against cultural racketeering, again urges the Met to reevaluate its role in ending these crimes.