From “The Return of Cultural Treasures” by Jeanette Greenfield

Museums are unevenly distributed between prosperous and poorer countries. The United States alone has about a quarter of all the museums in the world. In 1965 the American Association of Museums revelead that between 1960 and 1964 a new museum was set up every three to four days. In the 1980s there were more than twenty-one museums for every million of the population (estimated at 194 million for the USA and Canada). Nearly all of these are private institutions, and in the USA, among the major institutions, the Library of Congress and the National Archives are under federal control. Attendances at American museums and art galleries even exceeded those at popular sporting events. Museum development in Canada has also been vigorous, with much attention being given to its own rich indigenous ethnographic collections of Eskimo and Indian art. For many years the United States adopted a laissez-faire policy over the import and export of cultural treasures, and was reputed to be the largest buyers’ market in the world for stolen or illegally exported cultural property, much of it coming from South America, and often ending up in respectable museums. Cultural objects could leave and enter without restriction and were free of duty. From 1971 onwards, however, this policy began to change. Of art-importing nations the United States and Canada are now among the most responsive to the issue of the origin of cultural property. (154)

More on the book.


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