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August 2005

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the expanded American Council for Cultural Policy website. This is an appropriate time to reflect on the organization’s recent achievements and to acknowledge some barriers yet to be overcome. The American Council for Cultural Policy was founded in 2002 in order to bring important issues of art and cultural heritage to the attention of the American public and to facilitate a productive discussion among arts professionals, archaeologists, and the U.S. museum community. This website was the first educational project undertaken by the Council. Over the last two years, the site has become a valued resource for students, educators, journalists, museum and legal professionals, and others concerned with cultural issues and policies. I urge you to visit our expanded links, background readings, laws and conventions, and bibliographical pages!

I want also to draw your attention to a recent Op-Ed article by myself and ACCP Advisory Board member Kate Fitz Gibbon in the Wall Street Journal on the request by The Peoples Republic of China for a far-reaching ban on the importation of Chinese art into the United States. Our primary concern was that the request did not meet the criteria established under U.S. law. In granting restrictions, the U.S. would be acting unilaterally, the terms of the request were inappropriately broad, there is an extensive international market in Chinese art (including government affiliated auction houses in China) and China’s government had failed spectacularly to meet its obligation to protect its cultural sites from damage through development, or to police its own citizens. I urge you to read this Op-Ed and consider the implications of China’s request.Op-Ed

We are very pleased to be able to announce another important achievement in the educational mission of the American Council for Cultural Policy. Who Owns the Past? Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law has been published by Rutgers University Press. The book forms part of the Rutgers Series on the Public Life of the Arts; it is edited by Kate Fitz Gibbon and contains articles by thirty distinguished contributors, including many of the nation’s top legal scholars, museum professionals, anthropologists, archaeologists, and collectors. As Rutgers has stated, "In clear, non-technical language, they provide a comprehensive overview of the development of cultural property law and practices… Topics covered include rights to property, ethical ownership, the public responsibilities of museums, threats to art from war, pillage, and development, and international cooperation to preserve collections in the developing world." The book may be ordered through the following link: http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/ACCP, book details: news.htm.

The ACCP is deeply indebted to the authors for their contributions, and to all those who lent time, energy, and financial support to the project. The book reflects the ACCP’s commitment to include all perspectives and to encourage an open debate on vitally important arts issues. We believe that this publication is a positive step toward developing sound, sustainable, ethically responsible policies that consider traditional American interests in securing cultural resources while respecting international concerns over loss of heritage.

On the day that the book was printed, we received news that author, journalist, and fellow contributor Steven Vincent had been killed in Basra, Iraq. Steven had spent many months in Basra and Baghdad since 2003, writing a new book, The Red Zone, and producing hard-hitting articles on the war for the New York Times and other papers and journals. We will miss Steven’s courage, his clarity, and his willingness to step forward to tackle difficult issues.

Steven’s death should remind us that words are both dangerous and powerful. The American Council for Cultural Policy sponsored publication of Who Owns the Past? because we believe strongly in the value of an open and frank discussion of the issues. It is with regret that I must take note of a continuing failure to embrace positive dialog by all parties within the cultural policy debate. Certain individuals and organizations have, to their own deep discredit, persisted in misrepresenting the work and aims of the American Council for Cultural Policy. Defamatory and wrong reports continue to circulate on list serves and even in the press, charging that the ACCP acted to encourage the looting of Iraqi museums and archaeological sites and that the organization condones the illicit trade and collection of stolen antiquities. Such claims would be ludicrous if they were not so successfully disseminated, or if those making such accusations did so simply because they were ignorant of the facts. Unfortunately, these irresponsible statements have continued, despite retractions by the more responsible press and readily available public information on the ACCP’s active role in attempting to protect Iraq’s antiquities in the period leading up to the war. See the ACCP Open Letter on this.

An independent, contemporaneous Memorandum of Conversation of the 2003 meetings held at the State Department and Department of Defense also linked to this site substantiates the ACCP record and – fortuitously – sheds new light on the contributions of the group as a whole, which included McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, and Maxwell Anderson, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, as well as Ashton Hawkins and Arthur Houghton of the ACCP. The group, which was organized at the instance of the ACCP in the absence of any other direct and effective channel of communication that might do so, was formed at the agreement of its participants for the common cause of conveying to the U.S. Government their concerns about the security of Iraq’s monuments, museums, and antiquities. It was, in the stated views of a number of officials with whom it met, and as it appears in retrospect today, a model of unity and cohesion of purpose. memorandum of conversation

As we have stated previously, the Council is firmly a part of the important international effort to help Iraq reclaim its looted objects, to take all steps necessary to restore the damage done and to protect monuments and sites in the future. The Council remains deeply proud of its initiative with regard to Iraq – the first such to have been undertaken by any US organization -- and of its continuing efforts to ensure the protection of Iraq’s cultural treasures.

Today, we celebrate the completion of a major educational project, the publication of Who Owns the Past, and reflect with satisfaction on other ACCP undertakings designed to increase public awareness of arts issues. We know, however, that the most important work is still to come. We believe that despite our differences, we share many of the concerns of those who have been our harshest critics. Self-imposed division and hostility will threaten our ability to make thoughtful decisions for the future. There are too few people in the world who really care about cultural heritage, and about art.

Indeed, history teaches us that nobody owns the past – for long. Let us use the time available to us to seek out areas of commonality between archaeologists, the discoverers of the past, and museums, its stewards. Let us make pacts between the developed and developing nations that provide meaningful assistance to help countries in need with documentation, conservation, and technical aid. Let us find ways to bring ourselves together in common cause, reflecting the spirit of our actions in Washington in early 2003, to develop positive, effective policies that can preserve and protect the cultural heritage of all nations.

Ashton Hawkins, President
American Council for Cultural Policy

Statement on the looting of the Baghdad Museum