|The Olympia museum in Greece, site of an armed theft|
The ad, produced by the Association of Greek Archaeologists, is most immediately a reminder of an armed robbery of dozens of artifacts from a museum in Olympia in February, amid persistent security shortcomings at museums across the country. But the campaign’s central message — “Monuments have no voice. They must have yours” — is a much broader attack on deep cultural budget cuts being made as part of the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the European economic establishment, measures that have led in recent weeks to an electoral crisis, a caretaker government and the specter of Greece’s departure from the euro zone. Effects of the cultural cuts are already being felt by the public, as museum galleries and sometimes whole museums suffer from sporadic closings.
Despite the persistent claims that austerity played a role in that Olympia Museum theft, there has been no evidence of this, other than the circumstantial connection between Greek austerity and budget cuts and the armed theft early in the morning itself. We may be critical of the Greeks—but in times of economic hardship difficult choices must be made. And Greece is certainly not the only nation making those choices. Consider the Met's recent decision to quietly deaccession some old masters, the Getty's recent funding cutbacks, or even the Corcoran's potential sale of its building in Washington D.C. Difficult choices for all of these cultural institutions have to be made.
Kennedy's piece does a fine job relating the perspectives of the Greek archaeologists affected. But is austerity a cause of the looting and theft? Or rather is it the thieves and looters who commit these crimes, and austerity provides them with a slightly more vulnerable target.
We should perhaps remember that other arts reporters for the New York Times have a habit of travelling to the mediterranean and pointing out flaws in the cultural resource management of the Greeks and Italians. Consider this piece from Michael Kimmelman in 2009 criticizing the Italians and the Villa Giulia after the repatriation of the Euphronios Krater.
- Randy Kennedy, Archaeologists Say Greek Antiquities Threatened by Austerity, The New York Times, June 11, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/arts/design/archaeologists-say-greek-antiquities-threatened-by-austerity.html (last visited Jun 12, 2012).