Legal and Social Issues Related to Handling of Cultural Heritage by Libraries and Museums to be Focus of Conference

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: March 25, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Hector Feliciano spent more than seven years tracking down the story of Nazi art pillaging. In his most recent book, "The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art," Feliciano used declassified documents, interrogation reports, detailed Nazi inventories, private family archives, museum catalogs and hundreds of interviews to trace the fate of these stolen works as they moved from top German officials to unscrupulous art dealers and unwitting museums, galleries and auction houses.

Feliciano will describe this world of secret art trade during the keynote address of the Conference on the Ownership and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage, to be presented April 1-2 by the University at Buffalo Law School's Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy.

Feliciano will speak from 6-7:30 p.m. April 1 in the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, 25 Nottingham Court. His talk, which will be free and open to the public, will be preceded by a reception and book sale from 5:30-6 p.m.

The goal of the conference, to be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 2 in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus, is to provide a forum for exploring the legal and social issues confronted by museums and libraries in their handling of cultural heritage. The focus will be on the issues of ownership and repatriation, as examined by an interdisciplinary panel of scholars.

Cultural heritage is a collection of artifacts. But artifacts can mean different things to different people, depending upon one's perspective and intentions, conference organizers note. For example, lawyers may view artifacts as property. For members of a relevant national, religious or cultural group, artifacts can be symbols of historical record; for researchers, artifacts may help in understanding or addressing cultural questions.

While there have been individual scholars studying the "push and pull" of these different perspectives of cultural heritage, the conference is designed to bring together "the collective thinking from diverse disciplines" to this topic, according to the conference organizers.

The topic is particularly timely, they add, given recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as ongoing disputes over Native American remains and the return of art work to Holocaust victims and their heirs.

Conference sessions will address such issues as "Guarding the Guardians of Culture," "Holocaust-Era Assets," "Native American and Indigenous Peoples Artifacts" and "Cultural Material: Property or Heritage?"

Conference organizers are Carole Ann Fabian, director of UB's Educational Technology Center; Shubha Ghosh, associate professor of law, and Sandra Olsen, director of the UB Art Galleries.

In addition to the Baldy Center, the conference is co-sponsored by the UB Libraries, UB Art Galleries and Museum Studies, the departments of Anthropology and Art History in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, and UB's Canadian-American Studies Committee. The keynote address also is sponsored by The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, the Institute for Jewish Thought and the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

For further information, contact the Baldy Center at 645-2102 or baldyctr@buffalo.edu.