Museum Ethics in Collecting and Ownership

Brian Kennedy, President, Director and CEO, Toledo Museum of Art and Peter McIsaac, Associate Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures, UM, engage in a conversation about ethical and legal issues associated with the acquisition, maintenance and display of objects in museum collections. Winter 2012.
Shifts in perceptions of social responsibility and a rapidly changing global environment have presented curators and scholars with unprecedented challenges. Key among these are a range of ethical and legal demands that museums openly account for the ways they acquire, maintain and display the objects in their collections. In this talk, these issues will be examined from scholarly and curatorial perspectives. These varied perspectives will help to provide a differentiated view of the forces at work in demands as diverse as the return of antiquities and archaeological artifacts to their countries of origin, repatriation and/or the appropriate treatment of human remains and sacred objects taken from indigenous and colonialized peoples, and the restitution of objects looted during the Nazi era. As a non-exclusive list, these topics will, in turn, serve to probe the complexities of “doing the right thing” in today’s global museum culture. This will involve examining prevailing methods””for instance, online databases and community consultation””and concepts”” for instance the public trust””that museum scholars, directors and curators have developed in their attempts to redress past and present wrongs while still striving to educate, delight, and serve the widest range of constituencies using collected objects.


Brian P. Kennedy has been President, Director and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art since September 2010. He came to the Museum with extensive experience in senior leadership positions at art museums in Ireland, Australia and the United States. A strategic thinker and collaborative leader, he also is a respected art historian, curator and author. Kennedy studied art history and history at University College in Dublin, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Some of his previous positions held include Director of Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire, Assistant Director of the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin), and Director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Kennedy is a past chair of the Irish Association of Art Historians and of the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors. A frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, Kennedy is a prolific author of six books and editor of six others. His most recent books are about artists Sean Scully and Frank Stella. Peter M. McIsaac is currently an Associate Professor of German and Museum Studies at the University of Michigan. Some of his previous positions include Director of the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies and Affiliated Faculty of Graduate Studies (Program in Humanities), both at York University, as well as Assistant Professor and Lecturer positions at Duke University, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the York University Merit Award, the Richard K. Lublin Distinguished Teaching Award from Trinigy College, and the Randall and Barbara Smith Faculty Enrichment Award from Duke University. He has contributed to numerous publications including Museums of the Mind: German Modernity and the Dynamics of Collecting, German Politics and Society, Preserving the Bloody Remains: Legacies of Violence in the Austrian Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, and many others. He is currently working on The Body Spectacular: Science, Public Enlightenment and Profit in German Anatomy Exhibitions. Peter McIsaac earned his bachelor’s degree in Physics and German from the University of Michigan and his PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University.

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