'Restitution - A Practical Guide'

August 15 2022

Image of 'Restitution - A Practical Guide'

Picture: ACE

Another sign the weather is changing in the UK restitution debate - Arts Council England have published a guide on what museums should do if presented with a claim for an item to be returned. It was commissioned from the Institute of Art & Law, and while it doesn't make any formal policy changes, the language is still interesting. For example, in the section on 'Assessing the Claim', insitutions are advised to consider how the item first came into their collection, as it is no longer deemed ethically acceptable to say, 'it was legally acquired at the time':

It is recognised throughout the museum sector today that museums must be especially sensitive to countries or communities of origin, and to past owners, in relation to cultural objects originally taken in ways considered unethical today (including during war, conflict or occupation, as well as by unlawful means or through duress). [...]

Questions to consider:

Did the removal occur in a way that was unlawful at the time or through a transactionentered into under duress or without consent (even if it occurred long ago)? If removal was illegal, the decision is often nolonger an ethical one, but a legal decision.

Did the removal occur at a time of war, conflict, occupation, famine, disease or widespread displacement of a population?

Did the circumstances through which the object was removed create particular harm and suffering that still resonate today for theclaimant?

Did the person(s) (if any) who facilitated the removal have the appropriate authority to do so?

Update - Dan Hicks, author of The Brutish Museums, takes a dim view of the report, here.

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