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Coming Soon: Updated Restitution Guidelines for British Museums

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Courtney Pierce

Center for Art Collection Ethics Graduate Assistant

Elizabeth Campbell

Director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics

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Statues of the pharaoh Senusret III, c. 1850 BC.

Statues of the pharaoh Senusret III, c. 1850 BC. Collection of the British Museum. The British Museum, among other UK institutions, has come under scrutiny in recent years for their slow response to colonial-era restitution.

© Jorge Ryan/CC. Image retrieved from the

In response to a recent wave of restitution and repatriation claims, British museums will soon have guidelines for the proper return of cultural objects, including colonial-era items. The new framework, planned for publication in autumn 2020, is being developed by the government-funded Arts Council England (ACE) with assistance from the Institute of Art and Law and the University of Leicester. The initiative will replace measures created in 2000 by the Museums and Galleries Commission, long considered out of date. According to an ACE statement, the new guidelines will address ethical and legal dimensions of restitution claims and provide “a practical tool that will include case studies, best practice and signposting to other resources.” 

While the measure is state-funded, it does not represent a shift in government policy. The framework is meant to guide museum professionals in institutions of all sizes, national and regional, on a case-by-case basis. ACE has invited a steering committee to oversee the project, joining forces with the Northern Ireland Museums Council, Museums Galleries Scotland, the Museums and Archives Division of the Welsh Government, the Museums Association, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) UK and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Read more about this story here.