Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sotheby's contributed $75K to support Syrian heritage protection efforts

An interesting development on the heritage protection funding side mentioned in passing in an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
The Center is a partner in the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq project, or SHOSI, which brings together the Smithsonian Institution, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Day After Association, a Syrian-led civil society group, to support the professional community on the ground in Iraq and Syria. (Sotheby’s recently gave $75,000 to the Smithsonian in support of the project.)
I am not aware -- maybe others are -- of any similar contributions having been made by auction houses or dealers towards projects aimed at assisting the protection and securing of antiquities. It would be great to see this kind of giving replicated by the other auction houses and by antiquities dealers. Better still would be a concerted commitment by the players in the trade to make annual contributions to some non-profit entity -- perhaps the Smithsonian, perhaps an NGO -- that would distribute the funding in a timely way (for instance, for the kinds of emergency needs identified by Brian Daniels in the same article). Imagine the goodwill the trade might garner if the major dealers and auction houses -- and heck, why not also major collectors -- signed on to contribute 10% of their annual revenue from antiquities sales to such a fund. (Of course, 10% would be a lot more than $75,000 -- in 2014, two statues alone sold for a total of £25 million.)

Taking such a step would not only give Sotheby's, Christie's, and responsible dealers such as James Ede a p.r. boost that might well lead to a thaw in relations with hostile "source" countries and heritage protection advocates, it might also forestall what is surely coming down the pipes eventually: the imposition of regulations -- including transparency requirements and a tax -- on the market. I myself would much prefer to see the trade regulated de jure, but voluntary self-regulation of the kind I am suggesting is a not-unhelpful second-best solution.

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