Past Program

May 09 - May 14, 2008

Achieving the Freer Circulation of Cultural Artifacts


Michael Conforti, president of the American Association of Art Museum Directors, and Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, led an international forum at the Salzburg Global Seminar earlier this year, aimed at increasing the international exchange of cultural artifacts.

Representatives from museums and cultural organizations in twenty-nine countries gathered at Schloss Leopoldskron to discuss ways to overcome political, legal, and practical obstacles to the circulation of cultural objects. Participants reached the following consensus on areas where further effort is needed and recommended:

The Seminar participants affirm a responsibility to advocate for increased exchange, to circulate the objects in our care as widely as possible and to multiply the contexts in which they are shown. However, participants acknowledge that existing inequalities may inhibit the exchange of cultural objects. We suggest that special attention should be given to the difference between the ownership of cultural objects and other commodities. To advance the freer movement of cultural objects further effort in the following areas is needed:
I. Indemnity
Creation of an international indemnity scheme
II. Immunity
Development of an international convention on anti-seizure
III. Regulation of Loans Process
Creation of an equitable international standard of loan procedure
IV. Environmental Consciousness
Minimization of the long-term environmental impact of the freer circulation of objects
V. Illegality
Development of international tools and principles concerning the handling of illicit objects
VI. Building a Community of Practice
Nurturing of international networks and sharing of knowledge among cultural institutions


Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, speaks with Laurent Levi-Strauss, Chief of the Section of Museums and Cultural Objects at UNESCO, on achieving the freer circulation of cultural objects.

Michael Conforti, President of the American Association of Art Museum Directors, interviews Kavitha Singh, Associate Professor of Art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and Idle Farah, Director General of the National Museums of Kenya, on obstacles confronting museums in less developed countries.

Maxwell Anderson, Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Norman Palmer, Professor of Law of Art and Cultural Property at King’s College London, discuss legal obstacles to the circulation of cultural objects.



Museums around the world are guardians of the cultural and artistic achievements of humankind. By providing people with the opportunity to experience cultural objects and art, museums foster not only an appreciation of aesthetic beauty and human inventiveness, but also promote mutual understanding of histories and culture among the diverse peoples of the world. Things can change the way people think about others and about the world. Granting public access to our common cultural legacy and to precious artworks is therefore a crucial responsibility of museums around the world, as are efforts to increase loans of precious artworks among institutions in different countries to ensure that a maximum number of people may have the opportunity to experience and appreciate them.

This session is aimed at building consensus among cultural authorities and museum representatives from around the world on ways to overcome legal, political, and practical obstacles to the circulation of cultural objects-including, but not limited to-those which have been transferred from one country to another in known or unknown circumstances in the distant or more recent past. Participants will work together to identify and assess new and better ways to promote the sharing of art and artifacts - from virtual access via "Second Life" to strategies for significantly expanding loan programs worldwide.

This session is made possibly by a generous grant from The Edward T. Cone Foundation.