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Statement Concerning the Acquisition of Cultural Properties Originating From Abroad, From Indigenous Cultures, and From Private Collections During the Nazi Era

Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on April 28, 1978; revised on October 23, 2016.


The mission of the College Art Association (CAA) is to promote the visual arts and their understanding through committed practice and intellectual engagement. In pursuit of this mission and in accordance with its by-laws, CAA encourages the highest standards of creativity, scholarship, connoisseurship, and teaching in the areas of studio art, the history and criticism of the visual arts and architecture, and exhibitions; and it furthers these objectives in institutions of higher learning and of public service such as colleges, universities, art schools, museums, and other arts organizations. In relation to these purposes, CAA disseminates standards, guidelines, and statements of policy regarding the activities of such institutions and entities.

CAA recognizes the vital role played by museums in acquiring, displaying, and making available for research and teaching, works in the visual arts. The acquisition of such works, however, should not come at the expense of nations, indigenous cultures, and individuals who have not parted with or would not willingly part with such works. Accordingly, CAA encourages curators, collectors, dealers, public officials, auction houses, and all others entrusted with the acquisition and/or custody of works of art and material culture to assure such acquisitions or possessions are in accordance with the highest international provenance standards, especially with regard to ancient works from abroad, those produced by indigenous peoples, works separated from their owners during the Nazi era (1933–45), and works separated from nations and cultures under duress.

This statement offers guidance regarding the acquisition, documentation, and—when appropriate—repatriation or restitution of such works. It accomplishes this task by referring CAA members and others to the following guidelines developed by professional associations whose institutional and individual members specialize in the acquisition of such works. In each instance, those organizations have carefully analyzed the best practices now prevalent in the field and thus these guidelines represent the most current approaches to the handling of these classes of objects.

Guidelines and Standards

Regarding the acquisition of ancient or old objects from abroad, see the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), USA, “Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art” (2013)

See also the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), “Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art” (2008)

Regarding the handling of objects produced by indigenous cultures in the Americas, see the AAMD’s “Report on the Stewardship and Acquisition of Sacred Objects” (2006)

Regarding the handling of works taken from their owners during the Nazi era, see the AAMD’s guidelines on “Art Museums and the Identification and Restitution of Works Stolen by the Nazis” (2007)

See also the AAM’s “Standards Regarding the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era” (1999, amended 2001)

Individuals seeking the return of objects illegally obtained during the Nazi era and museums wishing to register works suspected of being acquired as a result of Nazi-related dispossession, see the AAM’s “Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal Project

International Conventions and National Legislation

The development of these and similar guidelines has been shaped by more than forty years of disputes that were subsequently addressed through international conventions and national legislations. The most relevant of these are:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970” (1970)

UNESCO, “Recommendation for the Protection of Movable Cultural Property” (1978)

Within the United States of America, the handling of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are governed by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA, 1990). Resources for museum professionals working with NAGPRA-related materials are available on the NAGRPA website.


The repatriation or restitution of objects is complex and can entail a variety of legal concerns transcending international boundaries and involving multiple institutions and government agencies. To assist with repatriation and restitution efforts, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) offers “Art and Cultural Mediation” assistance and workshops. See:

Additional Resources

Additional publications related to this topic may be found on the AAM’s online bookstore, which contains a search tool that may be used with keywords and drop-down categories.

A related concern is museums’ temporary acceptance of works for safe-keeping from countries during periods of conflict or duress. The AAMD has drawn up guidelines for this practice: “AAMD Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis” (2015)

Prepared by Jeffrey Abt, Wayne State University, with the advice and approval of the 2015 Museum Committee.