Wednesday, May 7, 2014

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Increase Access to Foreign Art in U.S. Museums and Schools

(WASHINGTON) – The House of Representatives passed the strongly bipartisan H.R. 4292, the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act by a vote of 388-4. By making a change to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, this legislation strengthens the ability of U.S. museums and schools to borrow foreign government-owned artwork and cultural artifacts. The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on April 2, 2014.

H.R. 4292 would revive foreign borrowing and encourage foreign governments to loan portions of their collections to museums and galleries in the United States for public viewing. The ability of U.S. institutions consistently to produce first-class exhibitions depends in large part on assuring foreign governments that their loans will not subject them to litigation in U.S. courts.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), bill sponsor Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), and co-sponsors House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) praised the bill’s passage and issued the following joint statement:

“Due to the interpretation of overlapping federal statutes by federal courts, American universities and museums are too often denied the opportunity to borrow foreign government-owned artwork and cultural artifacts for temporary display. Today, much-needed bipartisan legislation passed the House that removes these barriers, increases access to foreign art in the United States and fosters a culture of learning and creativity. This legislation will make foreign artwork and artifacts more accessible to the public to view, study and appreciate in American schools and museums while preserving important protections for Holocaust-related claims. We are pleased that the House has reaffirmed its longstanding appreciation of the arts and the cultural exchange of ideas.”

Background: Currently, court decisions interpreting the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) discourage foreign governments from lending government-owned artwork and objects of cultural significance to U.S. museums and schools for temporary exhibit or display. Foreign governments are discouraged by the possibility of litigation in U.S. courts from which they would otherwise be immune. As a result, the ability of U.S. museums and schools to borrow works of art and objects of cultural significance owned by foreign governments has been seriously curtailed in recent years. The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act fixes this problem by making a narrowly-tailored change to FSIA. This change will make it easier for U.S. museums and educational institutions to borrow works of art and other objects from abroad, increasing Americans’ opportunities for cultural and educational development. This bill also makes an exception for cultural property taken during the Nazi era.

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