Blackfoot buckskin shirt that once belonged to  Chief Crowfoot. One of the items due to be repatriated to the Siksika Nation. © 2020 Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

Arts Council England appoints firm to produce repatriation guidance

Rebecca Atkinson, 18.03.2020
Guidance will encourage proactive and coordinated approach
Arts Council England (ACE) has appointed the Institute of Art and Law to develop guidance for museums on the restitution and repatriation of cultural objects.

The guidance will cover the moral, ethical and legal considerations surrounding the return of objects to communities or countries, as well as sharing best practice examples of practice – from proactive collections research and building relationships with international cultural institutions and communities, to dealing with claims and making decisions on the potential return of objects.

Aimed at all UK museums, the resource will replace the most recent sector guidance on repatriation, which was published in 2000 by the now-defunct Museums and Galleries Commission in 2000.

The Institute of Art and Law, which is an educational organisation sharing knowledge and perspective cultural heritage law, will work with Janet Ulph from the University of Leicester on the document. Ulph has previously worked with the Museums Association (MA) on a number of projects, including the Disposal Toolkit.

The plan is to conduct wide-ranging research and consultation across and beyond the UK museum sector, including with international museums and representatives of claimant communities, with the final guidance published in autumn 2020.

However, in light of the Covid-19 emergency, it is unclear when or how the research will take place or when the document will be available.

Kate Bellamy, the director of museums and cultural property at the arts council, said the appointment was in recognition of the growing interest and debate around restitution and repatriation.

And Alexander Herman, the assistant director of the Institute of Art and Law, said: "We have worked for many years with museum professionals who often tell us there is little in the way of guidance for dealing with claims for restitution and repatriation and related issues.

“We applaud ACE in taking this step and look forward to working with it to produce clear and practical guidance for the sector. UK museums have an opportunity to play a leading role in this area."

The sector body advertised the three-month, £42,000 contract in January. The resulting resource will be aimed at all museums in the UK, including national, local authority, independent and university.  

It will complement the MA-supported working group launched last year to produce guidance on decolonising museum collections.


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16.05.2020, 10:16
A first draft could be finished by the end of June, 2020. But we will continue consulting if this is needed. We need to listen very carefully to many voices with different ideas and experiences both in the UK and overseas.
20.04.2020, 21:00

The guidance is expected to be finished by the end of June 2020.