Monday, January 28, 2013

Q&A: How to Save the Arts in Times of War

It seems possible that great strides can and will be made in the on-going endeavor to develop new and more effective methods for ensuring cultural security.  Dr. Laurie W. Rush (Ph.D., RPA, FAAR), Cultural Resource Manager for the U.S. Army, with her training programs to educate soldiers on cultural heritage protection, is one example. Corine Wegener, who served in the Army Reserve for 21 years and founded the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, is another.
A recent Q&A with Wegener posted by Leah Binkovitz of the Smithsonian Institution elaborates on just how we might save the arts in times of war. The 1954 Hague Convention plays a key role in international guidelines for handling cultural property during armed conflict.  However—as Wegener points out—how do you execute it in reality? “It says, avoid these cultural sites. Well, you can figure out a few because they’re on the World Heritage List but what about a contemporary museum building full of ancient collections, that’s not going to be on a World Heritage List? We don’t have a list like that, why do we expect these other countries to be able to provide that at a moment’s notice too?” Wegener discusses how she believes this is a goal towards which each country needs to work; in the meantime, however, there is often a scramble.
In such situations--when information is lacking or ambiguous and the government cannot or will not help--Wegener and her team go through the Blue Shield network. This includes utilizing the International Council of Museums and its contact lists to reach out to members within a country. The next stage is to reach out to colleagues in the United States who excavate in those countries and have access to a wealth of information, such as GIS coordinates for archaeological sites and site information for museums. Wegener elaborates on how the Smithsonian is a great resource because it has a great number of people who are doing research in a variety of countries and who have experience and contacts in those countries and can, possibly, reach out in more unofficial ways to gain information.  Wegener points out that people are often more willing to provide information “if they know that their identity is going to be protected and that it’s kind of as an aside to a friend.” It therefore is prudent to utilize a trusted network that provides information on a need-to-know basis.
Wegener employs a variety of methods to do her part in ensuring cultural security. In addition to navigating the complex web of resources and contacts to gain crucial information, Wegener also travels across the country training soldiers in cultural heritage preservation. Her education programme covers everything from material science to museum organization to international law, and includes tutorials and tours by Smithsonian curators. Such innovation and determination should serve as inspiration to others in the field of cultural security.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

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