Arts Council England has published a new guide for museums that have received restitution and repatriation requests.
The guidance has been developed by the Institute of Art and Law, and sets out recommendations on the aspects of museum operations affected by these issues, and how to take proactive action in what it defines as “a spirit of transparency, collaboration and fairness”.
The document, ‘Restitution and Repatriation: A Practical Guide for Museums in England’, replaces previous guidance on the topic published by the now-defunct Museums and Galleries Commission from 2000.
The guide does not represent new policy, but is meant to serve as a practical, step-by-step guide for museums in England.
A ‘Getting started’ checklist from the guide
1. Better understanding collection items: provenance research
- Looked into controversial collections?
- Consulted relevant parties (countries or communities of origin, diaspora, other museums, relevant specialists/experts)?
- Shared provenance information across museums, academic and sector networks
2. Ensuring collection information is accessible
- Told the full story about an item through labelling and interpretation, as well as in archives?
- Digitised relevant provenance information to make it widely available?
- Made public information about past restitution and repatriation claims?
- (All of the above are subject to any possible confidentiality requirements)
3. Developing a policy on responding to restitution and repatriation cases
- Developed a policy on responding to restitution and repatriation cases?
- Appointed staff role(s) as point(s) of contact for restitution and repatriation issues?
In the first section is explained best practices prior to a claim, in part through establishing and making transparent the appropriate provenance research.
The second section details the process of working through a claim as it is received, including the assessment of the legal and ethical grounds and a number of potential outcomes, all of which are underpinned by existing policy and legislation.
The guide suggests that receiving a claim for restitution or repatriation can be interpreted as “an opportunity to learn and reflect, and to connect with people and the collection in new ways”.
It says that the experience “need not be defensive and adversarial, but can be collaborative and enriching”.