AC Joins World Leaders to Discuss Creativity at Annual CEA Museums Cooperation Initiative

As the illicit trade in art and antiquities continues to threaten heritage globally, it is essential to promote creative solutions to preserve and protect our shared history. 

On May 22-23, the Antiquities Coalition joined global leaders at the fourth China-Europe-America (CEA) Museums Cooperation Dialogue to discuss museums’ essential role in safeguarding heritage.

Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized the creative potential of museums:

“Culture is a fundamental source of creativity. And as stewards of culture, museums have a unique ability to harness creativity. They also have a responsibility to safeguard our shared heritage from threats.”

As powerful intermediaries between global cultures, museums serve as facilitators of educational and material exchange. In this important role, museums must model high legal and ethical standards in their management of cultural materials. 

Executive Director Tess Davis shared recent successes and the marked potential of creative exhibitions, collaborative repatriations, and elevated best practices. She concluded,

“Fifty years later, museums are still key allies in the fight against the illicit trade in antiquities, and we are thrilled to see different ways they are serving as catalysts for creativity to inspire others to join the fight.”

The China-Europe-America Museums Cooperation Initiative is a community of experts, practitioners, artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and educators, whose mission is to find collaborative solutions for the world’s greatest challenges. The CEA has explored the multi-faceted world of museums— from technology in 2021, to preservation in 2022, and connectivity in 2023. Learn more about these events here.

These dialogues have fostered numerous publications, including a recent volume featuring AC Chairman and Founder Deborah Lehr on “The Role of Archaeology in the Relationship between China and the World.” Learn more and access the publication here.

AC’s Helena Arose: “The Art World Must Change or Risk Losing Young Art Collectors”

A recent article from the New York Times questioned the current state of young art collectors and museum donors. In response, AC’s Director of Programs, Helena Arose, poses this question: Are the traditional values and old-school practices of the art world, long accepted as the norm, giving future collectors and donors cause for concern? 

The art market’s exemption from legal oversight has made it vulnerable to a wide range of financial crimes, threatening not just national security and economic integrity, but the vast majority of legitimate collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums. Current practices risk turning away young art collectors and museum donors who may be uncomfortable with the blurred and opaque practices.

With eyes from the art world on young collectors,  Arose recommends they take action through the following:

  • Support museums, auction houses, and galleries that uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency
  • Advocate for regulation of the American art market to safeguard against risk
  • Ensure acquisitions are not just legal, but ethical 
  • Champion contemporary local artists and buy art that is meant for sale while also supporting the community

With increased pressure from the public, collectors, and donors, the art market must change for the better or risk losing the next generation of buyers and supporters. From our buyer beware campaign to the Financial Crimes Task Force, the AC is committed to holding all those involved in the illicit trade of antiquities accountable for their role in cultural racketeering as we continue to lead the call for a responsible art market and trade practices.

“And to the art world – let this be another warning that urgent change is needed. If not – beware.” – Helena Arose, Director of Programs

Read Arose’s full article on LinkedIn and below, and follow Helena and the AC for more.

The Garden of Time: Met Gala Looks vs. Loot 2024 Edition

On May 6, the elite of the fashion and artistic world graced the red carpet for the annual Met Gala, held, as customary at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). The Antiquities Coalition marked the occasion with the second annual Looks vs. Loot – an ongoing initiative highlighting the rampant illicit trade in antiquities. This is an homage to cultural masterpieces returned from America’s largest art collection – the Met –  which are symbolically represented through the fashion on display at the Gala.

This year’s Gala theme, “The Garden of Time” is based on a short story by JG Ballard and believed to be a metaphor for the evolution of time. As an angry mob gathers to storm their home, Count Axel and his wife try to delay the inevitable with “time flowers” to turn back the clock. When the “disorganized tide” finally arrives, the Count and his wife are found as elegant statues gracing their beautiful garden for all time. 

The story ends at this point. Time does evolve, as Mr. Ballard points out, as does the ethics of society. Just imagine, in the period of Count Axel, the mob’s actions when they discovered the statues.

Would they destroy them, as did the Taliban with the Bamiyan Buddhas, to erase a part of history with which they disagreed? 

Or would they loot them and sell them to museums or collectors as we have seen in recent years, including after the Egyptian Revolution?

The Met Gala is all about art and style. And while the Met Museum is a fitting venue for hosting this glamourous evening, it should take note of the underlying message in the evening’s theme of the inevitability of change.

Today’s museums are responsible for setting legal and ethical standards for all who operate within the art market. In recent months, institutions like the Met have taken strides to improve policies and practices on ancient art and artifacts, increasing transparency and due diligence surrounding its collection. 

These important steps came after the Met was implicated in a series of scandals, disputes, law enforcement investigations, and even criminal prosecutions regarding its collection. A 2023 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. 

Institutions like the Met, with an endowment of $3.3 billion and an annual budget of around $300 million, should be the gold standard in the United States and even the world. Last May, the Met signaled a major shift in its approach to contested antiquities. Max Hollein, the Director of the Met, publicly committed to new policies to enhance transparency via a new provenance research team. This is a step in the right direction and part of the AC’s specific recommendations on how museums can stay vigilant against the illicit trafficking of antiquities.  

As the art market strives for greater transparency, the Antiquities Coalition celebrates these recent steps taken by the Met and looks forward to future steps the institution will take to right past actions.

Click through our favorite looks vs. loot from past Met Galas, comparing celebrity fashion statements with contested objects seized and returned from the Met’s collection.

AC Hosts Roundtable Discussion on Collaboration in the Fight Against Cultural Racketeering

At the 89th Society for American Archeology Annual Meeting, the AC’s Executive Director, Tess Davis, and Director of Programs, Helena Arose, hosted a luncheon roundtable with experts and law enforcement on cultural heritage preservation efforts. 

The event recognized that New Orleans has an important role to play in this fight. The city is home to several major museums, as well as some of the nation’s oldest antiques and antiquities galleries. But just as importantly, New Orleans is in the middle of the world’s largest port complex, which stretches 290 miles along the Mississippi River. While no longer the smugglers’ paradise of Jean Lafitte, all in the New Orleans’ legal, law enforcement, and arts communities should be on alert about the illicit antiquities trade.

With that goal in mind, the Antiquities Coalition brought together archaeologists, academics, and other subject matter experts with local law enforcement representatives to discuss methods of collaboration.

This meeting built on the forum hosted by the AC at the SAA Annual Meeting, which discussed  specific ways that American archaeologists can protect cultural heritage. Archeologists often have first-hand knowledge of any crimes against culture, as well as deep subject matter expertise on types of heritage, which can assist law enforcement in investigating and developing cases. Likewise, while archaeologists are cultural experts, they are not experts on fighting crime – therefore, law enforcement plays a critical role in addressing the criminal aspects of cultural racketeering.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks those who participated in the roundtable and looks forward to collaborating with experts across all disciplines and industries to preserve and protect cultural heritage. Learn how the AC is making strides to combat cultural racketeering.