Redistributive policy

Smithsonian Establishes Groundbreaking Ethical Returns Policy

The Smithsonian Institution today announced a new policy under which individual museums operating under its auspices may return to their rightful owners objects that have been looted or unethically acquired without first seeking approval. of the umbrella organization, the New York Times reports. Officials at the Washington, DC, institution noted that the policy, which went into effect April 30, represents a shift from the concept that previously governed its return practice, which is that legal ownership of a object provided sufficient justification for its retention. They further expressed the hope that other cultural institutions would follow their example and establish their own similar policies.

“My goal was very simple: Smithsonian will be the place people go to say, ‘This is how we should share our collections and think about ethical returns,'” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Time. “The Smithsonian is this incredible wonder – this gift not just to the country but to the world. It’s really important that we show leadership.

The new policy reflects a seismic shift taking place globally, in which cultural institutions have been compelled by changing mores brought about by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reassessment of colonialism to examine the history of objects in their possession and to make the choice to repatriate them. At the center of this conversation in recent years are the Benin Bronzes, a treasure trove of artefacts stolen by British troops in 1897 from the Republic of Benin, as Nigeria was then called, and scattered across the European continent and the west. Pressure has intensified on museums to return these items to Nigeria, with a number of institutions doing so. The Smithsonian in March revealed that he would return nearly all of his collection of thirty-nine Beninese bronzes to Nigeria, with some remaining at the Washington Museum as long-term loans.

Bunch explained that the Smithsonian would not immediately delve into a piece-by-piece assessment of the collections of its twenty-one constituent museums, said to comprise some 157 million items, but would instead examine the objects as they appeared in the context of the exhibitions and the acquisition of new collections, or at the request of concerned members of nations and communities.