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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

Ellingen Stash Bowl, Pueblo of Zuni

Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Center for Art Collection Ethics

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Promoting Ethical Art Collection Stewardship

Nearly every week, a news headline announces the latest lawsuit over a valuable work of art. An heir of Holocaust victims sues a museum over a painting stolen by the Nazis. An antiquities-rich country sues a dealer or gallery over objects plundered by profit-seekers. Indigenous peoples claim sacred objects looted by amateur archaeologists and donated to art museums. Often, the objects have been sold multiple times before reaching the current owner, complicating legal and ethical dimensions of the disputes.

In an effort to increase awareness of these issues and promote art provenance (ownership) research training, the University of Denver has established the Center for Art Collection Ethics (ACE) in the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (CAHSS). Elizabeth Campbell, Associate Professor of History, serves as Director.

ACE promotes ethical art collection stewardship through digital information and on-campus training, through non-degree certificate programs. Given the importance of Native American history and heritage in the Rocky Mountain West, and existing expertise at the University of Denver, we created our inaugural program on the stewardship of Native collections, originally scheduled for June 21-26, 2020. The program, honoring and welcoming Native voices, experts and practitioners, offered object studies in the collections of DU's Museum of Anthropology and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS). Experts included Dakota Hoska (Oglála Lakȟóta), Assistant Curator of Native Arts at the Denver Art Museum; Joseph Aguilar (San Ildefonso Pueblo), San Ildefonso Pueblo Tribal Historic Preservation Office, on the ethics of indigenous archeology; and keynote speaker Cynthia Chavez Lamar (San Felipe Pueblo/Hopi/Tewa/Navajo), Assistant Director for Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian. We invited members of the historic tribes of Colorado—the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho—to join us on campus and share their perspectives directly with students.

Since mid-March 2020, the University has been closely monitoring circumstances related to the spread of COVID-19, aiming to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all members of our community. ACE has also been working closely with tribal partners to build and deliver our program, which emphasizes the importance of community and relationships. We deeply respect the current need for our tribal members to focus on the health and safety of their communities, and do not feel that we can ask them to continue spending time and energy on our training program when they have much more immediate concerns. We also do not wish to put any students or speakers at risk of unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus, and conditions remain unpredictable. For all of these reasons, we have decided to cancel the on-campus program in June 2020. All applicants have been notified.

It is possible that the cancellation may turn into a postponement, but we need to wait until the current crisis passes to discuss the possibility with our tribal and institutional partners.

In the meantime, you can keep track of our activities by visiting our current website and subscribing to our blog at Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @UofDenver_ACE. For University updates, please visit DU's COVID-19 website.