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AC’s Tess Davis Explores Cultural Racketeering in Florida During WAWLT Podcast

January 3, 2023

The American art market comprises 42% of the international art market, making it the largest in the world. Because of its scale, U.S. collectors, policymakers, and the public are uniquely positioned to play a role in combating the illicit trade of art and antiquities. 

While most individuals assume looted and stolen artifacts are prevalent only in the U.S.’s largest museums, these objects are located across the nation and appear frequently in smaller museums and at premier art shows.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, spoke to David Quiñones, one of the hosts of the Why Are We Like This? podcast, to discuss the global issue of cultural racketeering and how the illicit antiquities trade thrives in the podcast’s home state of Florida.

Miami Beach is the U.S. location for the Art Basel show, an art fair hosting some of the top galleries and auction houses in one place. Davis notes that because efforts to mitigate the illicit antiquities trade have largely focused on New York, illegal art markets are emerging in cities like Miami Beach, Houston, and more.

There have also been significant repatriations from Florida residents in recent years, most notably from Netscape founder James H. Clark. Clark’s collection included tens of millions of dollars worth of artifacts smuggled and trafficked from Southeast Asia, including the 1000-year-old statue of Ganesha.

Davis emphasizes that awareness around the illicit antiquities trade is growing and museum patrons are increasingly holding these institutions accountable for the stolen objects within their walls. As more individuals speak out about cultural racketeering, we can expect to see more repatriations from collectors and museums and vital policy change from national and international governments.

Listen to the full episode here.