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House Approves Chabot Legislation to Facilitate Art and Cultural Exchange

Washington, June 9, 2015 | comments
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Washington, D.C. – The House on Tuesday approved legislation authored by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) to make it easier for American museums to obtain for exhibit works of art owned by foreign governments. Chabot’s legislation, H.R. 889, the Foreign Cultural Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, passed the House by voice vote.

“This is simple, straightforward legislation,” said Chabot. “It clarifies the relationship between two conflicting statutes to encourage the foreign lending of art to the United States. While this legislation makes a relatively minor change to existing law, it will, if enacted, provide enormous cultural benefits to the American people. And it will help ensure that museums like the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Taft Museum and others throughout Ohio and across the country may continue to present first class exhibits that both entertain and educate the public on cultural heritage and artwork from around the world.”

Under current law, specifically the Immunity from Seizure Act, foreign-owned artwork loaned to American museums is immune from federal court decisions and cannot be confiscated if the display of the artwork is non-commercial in nature and the President determines that the works’ display is in the national interest. In enacting the Immunity from Seizure Act, Congress recognized that cultural exchange would produce substantial benefits to the United States, both artistically and diplomatically.

However, for artwork and cultural objects owned by foreign governments, the intent of the Immunity from Seizure Act has been frustrated by another statute, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. A provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act has been interpreted to subject foreign governments to the jurisdiction of American courts if artwork owned by the government in question is temporarily imported into the United States.

According to the American Association of Museum Directors, this interpretation has led many foreign governments to decline exchanges of artwork and cultural objects with the United States for temporary exhibitions.

In order to encourage the exchange of foreign government-owned art, H.R. 889 seeks to clarify that the importation of artwork into the United States for temporary display is not commercial activity, and therefore that artwork is immune from seizure under the Immunity from Seizure Act. The intent of the legislation is to allow foreign lending to American museums to continue, which will aid cultural understanding and increase public exposure to archeological artifacts.

The legislation includes a Nazi-era exception, which provides that immunity does not apply to cases in which the loaned property was taken in violation of international law, and in connection with acts of the German government, or any allied government, during the period of January 30, 1933 through May 8, 1945.
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