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Stealing Culture: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Museums

November 15, 2018
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Professor Darrell Jackson of the University of Wyoming College of Law, and Nicole Crawford, Chief Curator and Assistant Director of the University of Wyoming Art Museum, will be giving a presentation on their groundbreaking research, Stealing Culture: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Museums.

The November 15th presentation is being hosted through the UW Alumni Association and begins at 6:00 PM at Redline, in Denver, Colo. It is worth 1 hour of Continuing Legal Education credits in both Wyoming and Colorado.

In 2017, Crawford and Jackson were part of a pilot group of UW Professors participating in the inaugural UW in Scotland Program.  UW in Scotland is a collaborative and transdisciplinary research and teaching project that manifested as a residential colloquium at Walter Scott’s House at Abbotsford. The aim of the project was to build, sustain, and enable faculty commitment to international and transdisciplinary research, and to exploratory teaching in Scotland.

UW faculty members that demonstrated an active interest and dedication to academic exploration across broad topics were selected to participate in the program.

The resulting project from Crawford and Jackson is a resounding success story of the mission of the program.

Born out if the Abbotsford group, Crawford and Jackson have embarked on a collaborative research project that is not only the first of its kind, it is so unique that it has the potential to have a large-scale impact throughout the art community world-wide. Their research investigates the intersection of criminal law and museums.

The unique partnership seeks to understand the issues that arise from museum artifacts and collections that have a questionable history of acquisition, and to further explore the potential legal repercussions of such items.

“We are looking at specific objects of questionable provenance (i.e.: looted artifacts, pure theft, forgeries, fraud), and then asking both the theoretical and practical questions of how that should work, both retroactively and going forward,” says Crawford. “Currently there are no concrete rules governing these situations or any academic research to rely on, so we are asking the tough questions and hopefully creating guidelines for the world to follow.”

Traditionally the topic has rarely been discussed in the museum world, however, it is becoming more and more prevalent. The research from Crawford and Jackson is sparking new discussions in two disciplines that rarely converse, and garnering a lot of interest on both sides.

The duo has been invited to speak about their research throughout the United States as well as abroad, including France, England, The Netherlands, and Canada. Additionally, they have been approached by publishers to produce book chapters, journal articles, as well as a full book on the subject.

The project development itself is in three phases.

Phase one of the project is the investigative research portion. With the help of several travel grants in support of their work, Crawford and Jackson spent the past summer traveling Europe to forge new relationships and visit with prominent museums. The purpose was to learn more about collections overseas, particular those in countries with histories of colonization. They also spent time doing a tremendous amount of research on similar-themed projects.

Phase two of the project will hone in on specific objects and collections of questionable origin, and look at case studies in which ambiguously acquired art has been requested for repatriation and denied. Phase two will also feature a course on the topic taught through the Honors Program at the University of Wyoming. The course is available starting in the spring 2019 semester.

Finally, phase three of the project will feature the release and publication of much of the research in both museum and law publications, with the hopeful creation of a protocol which museums can follow, and authorities can rely on.  Phase three will also see the teaching component on an international scale with a study abroad course being offered in Abbotsford in 2020.

For Professor Jackson, the experience has been both exciting and exhausting.

“It is challenging and humbling to be at the forefront of something and work towards building the foundation on an unexplored subject,” says Jackson. “We are literally leaders in the field, but with that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility.”

While the subject matter may be new, there are no two people who are better suited to explore it.

Nicole Crawford joined the administration at the UW Art Museum in 2009. Prior to her current role as the Chief Curator and Assistant Director, she served as the Curator for Collections. In her role, she was instrumental in expanding the UW Art Museum audiences on an international scale, as well as creating new study abroad and learning opportunities for students. Before coming to Wyoming, she was the Gallery Director at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. During her tenure with the gallery, she managed the exhibits, conducted research, and worked with numerous collectors. Prior to that, she spent two years as the Assistant Curator at the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska.

Darrell Jackson joined the College of Law in 2012. He is the Faculty Director of the Prosecution Assistance Clinic and teaches courses in Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Criminal Adjudication, and Critical Race Theory. Before coming to Wyoming, he briefly served as an Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity Services at the George Mason University School of Law. Prior to joining academia, he practiced law as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia and as an Assistant County Attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia. He also served as a judicial law clerk to The Honorable L.M. Brinkema in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and to The Honorable Marcus D. Williams in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of Virginia.

Jackson’s research interests dovetail nicely with the current project since his writing has traditionally focused on historically marginalized communities (HMC) as they struggle to obtain an equitable share of power within truly democratic societies.

The intersection of art and law is a new avenue on which Crawford and Jackson can continue their professional journeys and lead an innovative discussion.

Any interested individuals wishing to attend their presentation are encouraged to RSVP to uwalumni@uwyo.edu.

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Phone: 307-766-6416

Fax: 307-766-6417

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