The Latest

AC Co-Facilitates Training on Preserving and Protecting Heritage in Saudi Arabia

July 17, 2023

The United States is the world’s largest art market, making up 45% of the global total, placing the U.S. in a unique position to make a difference in the fight against cultural racketeering. However, global players like the Gulf States are quickly growing their roles with the creation of new and prominent museums, a booming art market, and increasing cultural tourism. In particular, the government of Saudi Arabia is well-positioned to become a leader in the global fight against the illicit trafficking of art and artifacts.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, co-facilitated a training that explored how to combat the illicit trade of cultural objects with the Heritage Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Partnering with the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Heritage Commission held the three-day event provided participants with greater knowledge of the issue and solutions against this challenge. The Heritage Commission gathered professionals from within the Commission, as well as the Diriyah Gate Development Company, the Royal Commission for Al-‘Ula, Museums Commission, Public Prosecution, Interpol, the Ministry of Interior, MOFA, and The Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority to participate. This training is one of a series of trainings aimed to build the technical capacity of the Heritage Commission staff, leading to the overall strengthening of the skillset and professional capabilities of KSA’s cultural sector workforce.

The partner program implementing this training, IIE, works to advance scholarship, build economies, and promote access to opportunities through international education. The organization has engaged more than 29,000 program participants in over 180 countries. 

The session was co-facilitated by Dr. Erin L. Thompson, Professor of Fraud, Forensics, Art Law and Crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. Dr. Thompson is an expert in the intersection of art and crime, encompassing such topics as antiquities theft and trafficking, forgery, and the ethics of digital reproductions of cultural heritage. Her first book,

Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale, 2016) examines the history of acquisition of Greek and Roman antiquities by private individuals, and her second, Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of American Public Monuments (Norton, 2022) delivers a historical, legal, and political analysis of protests and removal of monuments in the United States from its establishment to the present.

Abir Chorfa, National Director for the Antiquities Coalition projects in Algeria, also joined as a co-facilitator. In her work with the Antiquities Coalition, Ms. Chorfa has overseen the development and implementation of multiple solutions in service of safeguarding heritage and furthering international cooperation and diplomatic efforts.

Davis’ session focused on the impact of cultural diplomacy and international cooperation in mitigating the illicit trade. The training ended with the opportunity to create a roadmap to foster international cooperation, strengthen law and enforcement, engage the community to monitor and protect sites, and identify other key stakeholders to prevent antiquities trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the KSA Heritage Commission for hosting these insightful conversations and looks forward to engaging in future collaborations with Saudi Arabia to end cultural racketeering around the world.