Penn Museum Launches Penn Cultural Heritage Center

PHILADELPHIA –- The Penn Cultural Heritage Center, dedicated to expanding scholarly and public awareness, discussion and debate about complex issues surrounding the world’s endangered cultural heritage, has been established at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

Richard M. Leventhal, professor of anthropology at Penn and curator of the American Section at Penn Museum, is founder and director of the new Center. PCHC draws upon the expertise of the Museum’s curators, researchers, graduate students, other Penn department faculty and outside scholars for its programs. More than a year in the planning, the Center has already piloted some spring 2008 programs for law-enforcement professionals. It will launch public programming initiatives in the fall.

The Penn Cultural Heritage Center is building a two-pronged program with research and outreach initiatives, a dual focus that draws on Penn’s knowledge of pressing contemporary concerns.

“Many of the basic questions surrounding cultural heritage still need to be addressed,” Leventhal said. “What constitutes cultural heritage, cultural properties, communities and sacred objects? Why have cultural heritage and human rights become intertwined? What responsibilities do academics and museums have toward indigenous, scholarly and public constituencies? What is the future of heritage policy and of economic and cultural development? What is the future of museums and acquisitions by museums? Why, for example, has the first President’s House excavation here in Philadelphia caught the interest of so many people? These are the kinds of questions we will be addressing within the Center.”

“Cultural heritage is one of the global issues of our time,” Richard Hodges, Penn Museum director, said. “Like any finite resource, its equitable management urgently needs to be high on the agenda of politicians and scholars, and it is not. Penn Museum has long led the way in recognizing the importance of preserving and sharing heritage. Our new Penn Cultural Heritage Center intends to make a difference in the world, working on many levels in research, consultation and public-awareness building.”

The Center’s broad initiatives include education and outreach programming for diverse audiences including law enforcement, customs officers, lawyers, policymakers and academics involved in cultural-property protection and issues as well as community stakeholders and the general public. The Center has built upon earlier Museum training programs with United States officers to help stop the illicit movement of antiquities. Plans for a yearly continuing legal education course on cultural heritage and a speakers series for the public are underway.

The Center will work with culture ministries and other government groups in the management of cultural heritage at local, national and international levels. The Center is currently consulting with agencies in Mali, Montenegro and Honduras.
Conferences, with opportunities for in-depth dialog, publication, and, where appropriate, concluding public presentations, will be held. A first such conference, exploring indigenous views of cultural heritage, will feature prominent native scholars and activists from North and South America, will run the week of Sept. 29, with a public program on Oct. 4.

The Penn Cultural Heritage Center is supported by funding from the Provost’s Office of the University of Pennsylvania and private donors.