Illinois museum professionals talk modern cultural heritage dilemmas at NIU

Rich Holly, dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts, welcomes the workshop participants to DeKalb.
Rich Holly, dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts, welcomes the workshop participants to DeKalb.

Current and future Illinois museum leaders held a professional development workshop to consider 21st century cultural heritage dilemmas and their impact on the museum community.

The workshop, held April 16 on the NIU campus and at the Ellwood House Museum, was organized by the NIU Museum Studies Program, the Illinois Association of Museums and Ellwood.

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.

Green is chief curator at the Oriental Institute Museum and research associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Hanson is program director of archaeological site preservation at the 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 non-governmental organization 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.

Jennifer Kirker Priest, director of the NIU Anthropology Museum, and Catherine Raymond, director of the NIU Center for Burma Studies
Jennifer Kirker Priest, director of the NIU Anthropology Museum,
and Catherine Raymond, director of the NIU Center for Burma Studies

She 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.

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.

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