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Volunteering for the Ethics, Culture and Law Conference
Volunteering for the Ethics, Culture and Law Conference
Sara Mian-McCarthy
La Pietra Dialogues
May 15, 2010

When reviewing upcoming events with the La Pietra Dialogues staff, my eyes instantly jumped to the conference with the title Ethics, Culture, and Law. The conference’s discussion of whether countries have an unalienable right to their own cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, and how one should protect these rights was interesting to me. Many people have very strong and different opinions on this issue and I was eager to see what all of the panelists had to say.

The Ethics, Law, and Culture conference welcomed many renowned professors and intellects from the art world such as James Cuno (the Director of the Art Institute in Chicago), Angelo Tartuferi (the Vice-Director of the Uffizi Gallery), Giovannangelo Camporeale (Emeritus Professor of Etruscology at the University of Florence), and many distinguished Ph.D. candidates and professors from the European University Institute. After a brief meet and greet consisting in some much needed coffee and breakfast, the conference got under way.

The morning discussion revolved around landscape and how countries can protect this unique cultural heritage. In the presentations, I learned how we need to have a holistic landscape management approach which means we should view landscape as one large unit instead of individual sub parts. The next session discussed the rights to intangible heritage, which is something that may be the hardest to define. Because there is no physical object, it is hard to identify what aspects of culture, such as language, belong to which countries. While there was much stimulating discussion, we soon had to break for lunch and when we returned the conference really started to get interesting.

The afternoon sessions started off with the discussion of whether countries have the right to keep their cultural artifacts, or if it is acceptable for other countries to display antiquities that are not their own. This has been fiercely debated for many years through many cases, most notably the Greek Elgin Marbles which are housed in the British Museum. While almost all of the speakers agreed that a country should have the right to house their cultural artifacts, there was one noted exception. James Cuno seemed to provide the only opposition to this argument, which served as an interesting counterpoint to the other panelists. Cuno believed that having art in different settings, museums, and countries, provides more people with an opportunity not just to see it, but to come to their own conclusion about what it means. I think that this difference in ideas could stem from the different countries that the panelists came from. Cuno is from the United States, which although it has much culture, may not feel as nationalistic and protective when it comes to American art as other European countries do. For me, this was the most interesting part of the whole conference; seeing the panelists discuss with such passion their opinions on a subject that is pertinent in the world today. And then it clicked, this is why I studied abroad and this is why volunteering with La Pietra Dialogues was the best thing I could have done. Where else would I be able to see world renowned historians and scholars discussing art with such a passion and vigor? Only in Florence.

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