Monuments Men, the Munich Hoard and Cultural Heritage

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation’s 2013 conference entitled, “The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage: Historical, Political, Social and Cultural Perspectives on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict” held at Fordham Law Center at Lincoln Center in New York City.The program consisted of 4 really great panels a lunchtime chat with The Rape of Europa author Lynn Nicholas and a presentation by Monuments Men author Robert Edsel. I have a couple of Instagram shots below and you can see the full program here. I found every single speaker to be tremendous. I could write a post on each individual and each presentation, but I do not think that would be effective (not to mention I will be interviewing a few for this blog), so there are just a few things that I want to spend some time on.

Beyond recognizing and highlighting the accomplishments of the Monuments Men and its effects on how the United States has managed cultural heritage in time of armed conflict over the last 60 years, including places like Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, its important to realize that the training of soldiers, the understanding of military strategy to cultural heritage preservation are all the result of that initial work back in the 1940s. While hugely significant in cultural heritage communities, it is (and was for many speakers) important to acknowledge that it will take more than just Matt Damon and George Clooney (as powerful as they are) making another great movie to bring the issues and challenges of cultural heritage preservation to the public view AND make it an issue of importance. I cannot speak for the world at large, because I do not feel to have enough information, but the fact still remains that in many American sectors there is a challenge in messaging. I see it in philanthropy, the industry I work in, and in the culture community. There is a great divide between the disruptors, the voice of social media and the young people who not only ENGAGE it, but MANDATE it and the gate keepers of industry information.

It is often noted the power of millennials in this realm as consumers and “like”ers or “share”rs but, they are forgotten as the engineers or content creators of social media. Establishments across America think that they can send a few cute tweets, and share musing articles on Facebook and that they are using social media to engage a younger audience and THAT IS NOT TRUE. It is established that young people are leaving Facebook and moving toward other social media enterprises away from their parents and teachers and away from cute photos of cats at desks. I think the KEY piece to understand with social media that makes it unique to MY generation and so popular amongst us is that revolution, change, information, and agenda come from WITHIN social media, not outside. We determine the content that gets distributed, we are the gate keepers of the network. As more suggested “like”s and ad-words triggered posts appear in our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, the less engaged we are and will become.

The true progress and true depth in conversation around the key issues at hand in the cultural heritage community are for BOTH the millennial disruptors and the cultural gatekeepers. It’s not enough to have a twitter feed, and not enough to be on Facebook. You have to speak our language and we have to speak yours. I think that, for me, having seen that exact same conversation come up at the Council on Foundations and EPIP philanthropic conferences back in April, we need to create a unified front, a pipeline of individuals who understand this in the field. The folks currently leading in the sector need to share with us so we can share our power to disrupt and engage with the great work and great challenges of a sector we all care deeply about.

The Munich hoard has obviously been all over the news, and I am glad I was able to delay this post until after that news was released because I think it poses a unique opportunity. In my humble opinion, the timing of the discovery of the Munich hoard and the release of Monuments Men is a rare opportunity. One that may not reach the masses as we have previously seen in this field. NOW is the time to engage as a community and really think hard about how to market and brand the work that needs to be done to protect art and cultural heritage from war. It is a call to action for many of us in our day-to-day lives, but when will it be part of the national agenda? When will UNESCO be as prominent in the nightly news as Obamacare and Al Qaeda? We have the power to change the way this field is forever viewed by Americans (because, let’s face it, a lot more of the world gets it than we do)! I will get off of my soapbox now and say that I think that having left me with all of these thoughts and an opportunity to engage with some real all stars in our governments, universities, and the private sector doing this work, LCCHP did EXACTLY what it intended. It stirred up the significance of the film release of Monuments Men to the sector. Now what are we going to DO about it?