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Illinois museum professionals consider 21st century cultural heritage dilemmas

Richard Holly, Dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts welcoming workshop participants on behalf of Northern Illinois University
Richard Holly, Dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts welcoming workshop participants on behalf of Northern Illinois University
Peter Germonpre

Current and future Illinois museum leaders met and considered 21st century cultural heritage dilemmas at professional development workshop.

On April 16, 2014, current and future Illinois museum professionals met at a professional career development workshop to discuss 21st century cultural heritage dilemmas and their impact on the museum community. The Northern Illinois University Museum Studies Program, the Illinois Association of Museums, and the Ellwood House Museum co-organized the day-long event. Jack Green and Katharyn Hanson led the workshop sessions. The workshop is tied to the NIU Museum Studies Program exhibition Looting, Hoarding, Collecting... Repatriation and Museums, on view at the NIU Art Museum through May 23.

Jack Green is Chief Curator at the Oriental Institute Museum and Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Katharyn Hanson is Program Director, Archaeological Site Preservation, University of Delaware Institute for Global Studies at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage; Consulting Scholar for the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and Secretary for the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a ngo in service of the protection of cultural heritage worldwide, and member of the International Committee of the Blue Shield.

The morning session, led by Hanson, focused on cultural heritage law and policy, introducing participants to the international and domestic legal framework on cultural heritage, with attention given to the international UNESCO Convention of 1970, the 1983 US Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, and The 1990 US Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Hanson used real life examples involving museums to illustrate the importance to museums and museum professionals to be familiar with these laws and policies.

The afternoon session, led by Green, focused on museum ethics pertaining to collections. Participants explored ethical dilemmas by role-playing scenarios considering acquisition, repatriation, and deaccessioning of collections based on real-life examples affecting American museums.

The workshop was rounded out by formal lectures presented by the workshop leaders. Jack Green’s lecture, titled Looted heritage and the museum: The role of unprovenienced objects within archaeological collections, focused on The Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago, a museum specialized in the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East, summarizing the institution’s acquisition and display strategies from the late 19th century to the present. Hanson’s lecture, Looting and loss: cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, discussed the effectiveness of the international and national legal framework to help protect cultural heritage and damage to cultural heritage sites in conflict zones as we witness current destruction in Syria and assess the use of new legal tools created in response to the losses in Iraq during and following the 2003 invasion.