American Council for Cultural Policy

American Council for Cultural Policy

"American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP"') was formed by a group of wealthy and politically influential antiquities dealers, collectors and lawyers in the United States, with its headquarters in New York and representatives in Washington D.C.

The original goal of this organization was to allow legally excavated archaeological artifacts to be circulated freely and legitimately. ACCP's treasurer William Pearlstein has described Middle Eastern cultural heritage laws (especially those of Iraq) as "retentionist" and expressed a desire for the possibility of the free circulation of antiquities [Andrew Lawler, [ "Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities"] ("Science" 31 January 2003: Vol. 299. no. 5607, p. 643)] .

Some Archaeologists, academics, and cultural heritage lawyers have found such declarations worrisome, since the members of ACCP are politically influential figures. Archaeological Institute of America's [ code of ethics] maintain that its members "refuse to participate in the trade in undocumented antiquities and refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such objects. Undocumented antiquities are those which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970 when the AIA Council endorsed the [ UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property] , or which have not been excavated and exported from the country of origin in accordance with the laws of that country." (Source: [ AIA official webpage] ) It is widely believed by many academics that the trade and collectorship of antiquities fuel the looting and destruction of archaeological sites around the world [See e.g. Colin Renfrew, "Loot, legitimacy and ownership: the ethical crisis in archaeology". London: Duckworth, 2000. Also more recently Neil Brodie and Colin Renfrew, " [ Looting and the world's archaeological heritage: the inadequate response] " "Annual Review of Anthropology" 34 (2005) 43-61.] .

History and the structure of the group

According to published news reports and their [ own website] , the ACCP is directed by Ashton Hawkins, former executive vice-president and Counsel to the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The group had its inaugural meeting with a 45-people Board of Advisers on 9 October 2002. According to an Art Newspaper article (see below), among them were the antiquities collector Shelby White (see Leon Levy), the former Getty curator Arthur Houghton (a vice-president), the former Kimbell Art Museum director Edmund Pillsbury, and the legal scholar Prof John Merryman. Several lawyers from major museums were also there. William Pearlstein is the treasurer of the group and has also represented the National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental and Primitive Art.

Ashton Hawkins, former lawyer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and current president of ACCP is reported in the Art Newspaper article as stating the following: "We believe that legitimate dispersal of cultural material through the market is one of the best ways to protect it. We're interested in the protection of culture as much as the protection of legitimate collecting." [See David D'Arcy, "Legal group to fight "retentionist" policies." [ "Art Newspaper"] . October 24, 2002] .

The ACCP's board of directors included President Ashton Hawkins, Vice President Arthur Houghton, Treasurer William Pearlstein, Educational coordinator Kate Fitz Gibbon and Secretary Arielle Kozloff.

American invasion of Iraq and activities of ACCP

The council has appeared in the forefront of cultural heritage protection debates during the American 2003 invasion of Iraq. The President of ACCP, Ashton Hawkins has publicly expressed his wished to "liberalize the issuance of foreign-dig permits" in Iraq, and that ACCP supported a reconsideration of Iraqi cultural heritage laws to allow “some objects [to be] certified for export." (see [ Andrew Lawler, "Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities"] ("Science" 31 January 2003: Vol. 299. no. 5607, p. 643). On ACCP's activities concerning Iraqi cultural heritage, Zainab Bahrani’s article [ "Looting and Conquest"] [The Nation, May 26, 2003] takes a critical counter-position. Bahrani wrote that “William Pearlstein, of the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), an organization that met with the White House and the Pentagon right before the [Iraq] war and right after the looting [of the National Museum of Iraq] , is appealing for the cultural theft to continue by other means, calling Iraq's antiquities-preservation laws "retentionist," and saying he "hoped that Iraq would grant more excavation permits and consider export permits for redundant objects." She adds that such “opportunism opens the door to more cultural and historical plunder, a base scramble much like the parceling off of sites and antiquities that occurred in the nineteenth century.”


ACCP Advisory Board member Kate Fitz Gibbon, who served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to the US President from 2000--2003, has recently edited a book entitled "Who owns the past: Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law" (Rutgers University Press 2005), which mostly features contributors affiliated with ACCP (e.g. William Pearlstein, Shelby White, Kate Fitz Gibbon etc), and intends to propagate the legitimacy of "the ability of museums and private collectors [in the US] to own art from other countries" [ [ Rutgers U.P. book description] ] in the public opinion. Jean M. Borgatti (Clark University) published a favorable account of this book on [ H-Net reviews] . According to Borgatti, the book in the overall sense critiques what they call "retentive cultural nationalisms" of "source-nations" who insist that archaeological artifacts should remain in the country of origin. The authors of the book present themselves as "cultural internationalists" who consider ancient artifacts as works of art that need to be circulated (in the antiquities market, Western museums, among Western collectors) to promote a "cultural understanding".

Cultural property is internationally protected by the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the [ UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property] .


External links

* [ Andrew Lawler, "Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities"] ("Science" 31 January 2003: Vol. 299. no. 5607, p. 643).
* [ David D'Arcy, "Legal group to fight "retentionist" policies."] . "Art Newspaper" October 24, 2002.
* [ Zainab Bahrani, "Looting and Conquest"] (The Nation, May 26, 2003)
* [ UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property]
* [ Archaeological Institute of America's Code of Ethics]
* [ ACCP website]

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