Saturday, September 21, 2013

a quick thought on responses to the Art Loss Register article

On her widely read PhDiva blog, Dorothy King has posted an anecdote that explains the annoyance she and many others feel about the Art Loss Register. There are a number of problems with the ALR, but the complaint she makes, and that I have heard others voice as well, is that "The police don't charge people to help with crimes," while the Art Loss Register does.

I can understand that frustration. But it might be worth thinking a bit more about the notion that the police don't charge people to help with crimes. Technically that is true, but only technically: the police don't charge individuals to look into their crimes. But instead, we all are charged -- in the form of taxes to pay for the salaries etc. that are required to enable the police to exist and be able to fight crime, art crime included. Unfortunately, our politicians have not seen fit to adequately fund the police to pay for the kind of information-gathering that they could otherwise do instead of the ALR, much less to adequately fund the police to pay for the officers' time to investigate.

The solution has to be some better funding mechanism than the privatized one the ALR represents. One answer, which I have been beating drums for for several years now, would be to impose a "user-fee" tax on sales of antiquities above a certain threshold price, with the proceeds dedicated to improved policing of the market. That would include a registry -- not just of stolen antiquities, presumably, but of all antiquities (above a certain threshold) bought and sold -- which would dramatically improve the ability of police to investigate chains of provenance. But it would also one hopes include things like hiring more police and more guards, or doing something as clearly cost-effective as paying for bullets for site guards in Egypt, where as noted in an earlier blog posting the guards at a major site ran out of bullets and were driven off by a gang that is now looting the site.

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