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MEG event.1 18.07.19 sml

Below are notes taken on the day by Rachel Heminway Hurst - MEG welcomes responses to this account.

Attended by 18 MEG members and 3 members of staff from Derby Museums

  • Welcome by Tony Butler, Director, Derby Museums and Art Gallery

Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove introduced the Repatriation and Restitution workshop by setting the scene and outlining the main current reports and initiatives from UK and Europe ( see refs on the workshop agenda doc).

Notes on HMs presentation

  • The debate is currently dominated by some nationals and remarks by representatives such as Tristian Hunt have not been positive or forward thinking.
  • Laura Philips remarked that the official stance taken by the British Museum is not reflective of the thinking or work undertaken by most BM staff.
  • Many EU countries are showing a willingness to remove obstacles and actively engage with and progress the debate.
  • Contrary to the UK national perspective, the structure of regional museums means they can be more active and less constrained and there is an opportunity here for regionals to engage and be proactive.
  • But how do we set priorities for this work?
  • Collections Management and documentation are important in addressing the debate, also sharing knowledge and transparency are vital as is sharing and recognizing what we don't know.
  • Provenance research needs to be undertaken, but how do we resource this work, where do find the funding and who needs to involved and how do we share this information?
  • It is essential that we collaborate with international partners and diaspora communities.
  • We need to have a bigger understanding about moral and ethical concerns, not just focus on illegality, looking at the ‘colonial context’ in a broader sense and an understanding of inequality, not just Imperial conflicts.
  • Issues about repatriating to a state versus restitution to a community.

MGs doc from 2000 feels very out of date and limited, ACE working group to update this document, HM in this working group, keen to hear from and feedback in regional perspectives.

Tony Eccles, World Cultures Curator, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

Tony shared case studies about three repatriation and restitution projects that he and his predecessors initiated and undertook.

  • The repatriation of shell necklaces to Tasmania and human remains to Australia in the 1990s, process was long and slow, working with the Local Authority and High Commissions in Australia and Tasmania.
  • These projects were huge learning curves for world art staff and museum management, and building trust and having clear provenance for objects were crucial to the success of the relationship and successful returns.
  • TE initiated the restitution of cultural material back to the Blackfoot community from North America. The act of restitution and repatriation is healing for and very important to these communities.
  • Honesty in our practice and provenance, telling the stories of donors and collections and their histories honestly. The importance of language used when interpreting objects. Ie. Choosing the work ‘plundered’ on an object label to best describe how the object from Benin found its way to the museum collection.

Inbal Livne, Head of Collections and Engagement, Powell Cotton Museum

Inbal shared her thinking in how to embed a new proactive approach on repatriation and restitution into her organization.

  • Not just public statements and actions, embedded in our orgs, feeding these ideas into policy statements, past collecting policy was ‘we will take anything that is world art’, deaccessioning, toolkits all say we should offer objects first to the UK? Why not go internationally if more relevant, why not doing this, so Inbal is pursuing this, 1963 object exchange with Uganda, Kampala Museum, happened so can we do again? So need to rewrite their policies accordingly, is this repatriation or museum exchange? Kampala is actively collection material from all over Africa.
  • Uganda link as PCs son was Commissioner in Uganda & PC spend lots of time there in 1902, so already have link and history. Working with other curators important who have relationships ie.Julie Hudson with Kampala relationship.
  • Need to find source of funding for this, as not expecting the museum they approach to pay for.
  • Why are not approaching international museums who also have professionalism, commitment to engaging with communities etc.
  • Small museums have opportunities to do exciting things that are relevant, not bound by national protocol etc, this provides us with opportunities to be innovative and embrace new practice.
  • Powell Cotton has more freedom than local authority. New generation of councilors more understanding of decolonization agenda starting to see the benefits for reputation & status.
  • Institutions making commitments to each other on equal footing, not just individuals who have passion, need commitment.
  • MEG role - sharing and plotting relationships that we can share across institutions and countries.
  • Sharing partners and expertise.

Group Discussion

  • Esme Fairburn funding disposal project for Derby &Derbyshire ex schools handling collection, large collection including African and other world art material. funding a disposal project, MA supportive of this. Case study of what you can do with this sort of collection.
  • MA conversation with Buxton Museum staff, disposals.
  • MAC project overview from Nicola -project looks at how decolonisation efforts are playing out in three different museums, reflecting on where we are at, opportunities and limits of the three organisations. Building relationships key international partners, a lot of provenance to be done, but not be al and end all, who does that provenance research ie. not just white researchers!!!
  • Long process but also increasing urgency that we need to respond to.
  • 12 months - response from Dutch museums pledge so do they have a good plan in place?
  • We need case studies and map of how to do this work. Map out a process.
  • Barriers -costs, governance.
  • ACE working group need to set up principles first before map, process.
  • New provenance research post at Horniman, diaspora communities and Africa museums.
  • In the UK should be look at Consortia bids, pooling resources for this.
  • Different ways of working with communities and diasporas needed and different focus.
  • Arts council - project grants - could be a consortium of museums to do this, maybe MEG or SSN consortium opportunity or Regions getting together.
  • Mapping exercise about what is going on -and sharing repatriation claim information, role for MEG

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