Saving Art from ISIS

Maxwell Anderson, former director of the Dallas Museum of Art and former chair of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ Task Force on Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art, writes persuasively here of AAMD’s decision to establish a system for protecting art in times of war, terrorism, or natural disaster. Called the “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis,” the protocols offer a structure for American museums to “shelter works of art at risk.”  According to Anderson, “The protocols are a major first step. They mean that, for the first time, American museums are taking an active role in protecting cultural heritage under threat from Islamic State.”

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Maxwell Anderson, “How to Save Art from Islamic State,” Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2015.

32 thoughts on “Saving Art from ISIS

  1. Jim Bramnick

    I think this is a great progression for art history in general. Many of the works of art being destroyed as either collateral or intended target, can be saved and studied now thanks to these steps taken. However, a concern of mine is if ISIS/the local government will respect these Americans coming in to protect the works of art. Pollitically, I do not see that going over well, I could even predict it creating a worse situation out of a bad one. However, it could be worth the risk to all the art historians who value so greatly these works of art.

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    1. Miranda Lovett

      I agree with Jim’s prediction. It seems like trying to save this art with inflame the situation, but preserving the art is also very necessary. It’s a hard call, but I’m glad America is stepping up to try anyway. These regions have so much to offer and we have so much to learn from them; it would be devastating to lose these irreplaceable resources.

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  2. Olivia Sanderson

    ISIS is brutal in many ways, but their attack on culture is just outrageous. It’s one thing to steal the art and sell it to profit their war efforts, but to just demolish buildings and burn works of art is beyond me. I never can understand the absolute cruelty of some people, especially in regards to something like this.

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  3. Jaclyn Marcone

    I think its a major accomplishment and progression in art history that officials are striving to preserve works of art during times of war. ISIS is extremely destructive and I think its important that the AAMD works to protect these works of art because they are culturally significant and they can not let a terrorist group take that away. I also think the fact that the AAMD are establishing a system for protecting art during times of war shows how increasingly important art is becoming to cultures.

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  4. Laura Bufano

    I fully support this idea. I think that it is about time that someone does something to protect the art. I will never understand why they are destroying pieces of art. The fact that the AAMD are establishing a way to protect the art establishes how art has become so important now. I can not wait to see what else they are going to do in order to protect it.

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  5. Caroline Petro

    The destruction of art as a result of isis is truly upsetting. Art is something that all countries and different cultures can connect on, no matter what their differences may be, and it is sad that beautiful, priceless pieces of work have to suffer the consequences of war. Artwork can carry a great deal of emotion, expression, and history, and I believe it is one of the most important ways to learn about our past. I think many people underestimate how truly important art is to society and that is why we need to do a better job with protecting it, and AAMD’s efforts are truly necessary.

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  6. Cara Dudley

    I think this is a great idea. Just like historic sites and buildings in America, historic art pieces need to be protected too. They hold just as much history as the site can. I hope this plan works out and gets more museums and other organizations involved. It’s terrible that ISIS is destroying all of these beautiful pieces, but it’s good to see that someone is trying to create something that will try to save these pieces. It’s a good start and hopefully it will evolve into something greater.

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  7. Martin Gomez

    Ideas like these show me that the future can be bright for mankind. To come together in such a way to help preserve one another’s history is inspiring. Decades ago, this kind of idea might not have gained any traction, as the value of art from areas like this was often overlooked. But if this class has taught me anything, it is the importance of art from these areas, which I had never considered significant compared to more classical art like that of the Greeks and Romans.

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  8. Mona

    So many works of art are being destroyed. Isis’attacks on not only people but their culture and history is disgraceful and very sad. Like said above, it’s one thing to steal the art and sell it to profit(the art I still alive somewhere), but to just destroy buildings and art, essentially culture and history one can never get back it too much. That being said it is definitely a concern if ISIS and or the local government will respect these Americans coming in to protect the works of art. The art clearly means nothing to those people so having someone come save it may just seem awfully foolish. It honestly may just cause more problems. However, it would be cool to be able to save history and culture.

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  9. Maureen Sullivan

    I think the “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis,” is a very intelligent decision especially with everything going on in the world. When there are groups such as ISIS that will stop at nothing to destroy what they feel they need to destroy, it is reassuring to know that much of this art will be safe and free from the mass destruction that is taking place in many parts of the world. I also think it was very humbling to know that many countries trust that their work will be safe with us and I am glad that this country is viewed as trustworthy.

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  10. Reina Datta

    The idea of people destroying art as a way to prove a point is not new, and has been exhibited at multiple times in an array of cultures. Destroying art and architecture is one of the biggest statements and insults that can be made because not only is its culture and beauty being slandered, but it is history that is slowly withering away. No one wants their country or city to not be remembered and fade away because some group had a vendetta against them, or didn’t agree with their beliefs. I am conflicted by U.S. intervention. While it seems logical for someone to protect the art, some might not appreciate the U.S. taking the art any more than someone else. As far as preserving the art for historical reasons, maybe it is best for the U.S. to get involved, however I still have second thoughts about what that might do to relationships that the U.S. has with other countries.

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  11. Kayla

    It’s truly unfortunate that ISIS is destroying these works of art just to prove a point. Its just sad. I am glad that they are saving these works of art to study and to keeps save because it’s history. It’s distasteful to destroy basically a piece of the culture of that area they are taking the art from. It is however, concerning because this cause could be good or bad because if ISIS doesn’t care about destroying history and culture, then they most likely don’t care about destroy people to get what they want.

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  12. Erica Parker

    I think ISIS is destroying these pieces of art to send a message. It will not be an easy task to protect these precious pieces of art. I fully support the men and women that will be risking their lives to do so. I think the hardest part will be getting it to the US. If ISIS were to even think there was a plan to move art from museums and such I do not think things will go over well. I do not believe they are willing the let the art go without some sort of fight or statement made with violence. The process of moving the art must be fast and secretive.

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  13. Libby Patterson

    I find it inspiring that America is doing something about this great disservice to the art world. However, I do worry that this will only inflame the problems we are currently having. I believe that it is most certainly worth a shot, and this art has a great importance- but I believe the lives and safety of the men and women we send over their far outweighs any work of art. I suppose my ideas on this subject is that we must get in and out as quickly as possible- and have the main priority be these Americans coming home

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  14. Allison Skowronski

    As ISIS destroys art, they are wiping away the identity of both the artists as well as the people who the art reflects. While it is an excellent idea to protect art from around the world, it will be a difficult decision to judge which works of art are more deserving of protection than other works of art. Citizens from around the world must work together to make sure the art of the world is protected from danger.

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  15. Justin Pitts

    I think that ISIS is destroying these magnificent pieces of art to show a form of power. I do believe that these pieces of art need to be saved from these monstrous individuals, but that entails for the society to get involved and invest in a form of protection for these pieces. The protection of these objects will not be cheap to protect, but they are definitely worth investing in to preserve these incredible pieces and the stories that they tell.

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  16. Lily Van Horn

    ISIS is definitely proving the intended point of their authority over others in Syria and Iraq through the act of destroying these important artifacts. Their intentions are to bring out a rise in the people, and they have succeeded. I hope that not only American museums will take part in creating these Safe Havens for the art work. This entire process of bringing the artwork to the United States will be difficult and dangerous for both the volunteers and the works of art.

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  17. RyanV.

    I feel that humans need art. The allusion that everything disappears and getting lost in the art creates a sense of euphoria. ISIS seems determined to destroy the world and why are they choosing artifacts and loved art to destroy? There are no reasons to destroy any art, but saving the art to preserve is key. In order to keep passing down generations of history through art, thus stopping these efforts by ISIS in order to maintain what is left.

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  18. Jeremy Robertson

    I think the program suggested is definitely a viable option, but dealing with ISIS is a heated issue at the moment. If the program works and all of the artwork that is being targeted and destroyed can be saved then it will be a great thing. Saving the work is not only beneficial to art historians, it is also very important for us all. We use art to study ancient cultures and learn things about them and from them. Art can say many things and teach us a lot which is why the destruction of art must be stopped. In history people have taken many risks to save art, so I believe this one should be taken as well to preserve the art of that region.

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  19. Lizzie O'Meara

    Being someone who want to work in the field of preservation and archaeology, seeing and reading about some of these accounts of destruction of ancient artifacts really effects me. Its unimaginable to me that someone could destroy things so beautiful and treasured. It is imperative in my opinion that actions are taken in order to keep these artifacts protected so that they can be studied and enjoyed by future generations not only in the regions from where they originate, but also people around the world.

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  20. Tess Burroughs

    As seen with these examples of destruction, it is nonsensical to think ISIS actually represents the true Islamic faith. Each of these artifacts are sacred in its own way, and ISIS is only destroying them in an attempt to legitimize their power, strike fear, and send a message of utter violence and chaos to the world. It is so important to protect and preserve these treasures, although dealing with ISIS is equally as tricky and complex. The plan discussed within the article, as well as continuing to aid all the refuges and rebuild the areas ISIS has destroyed, is extremely important.

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  21. Austin Keller

    The destruction of art by ISIS is very horrific. Not only is ISIS destroying these great works, but they are also destroying the value/ importance of these pieces. Art is meant to represent culture and history behind the piece, when it is destroyed, so is the meaning of the historical and cultural aspects with it. It is just very sad that ISIS has to go this far to destroy historical preservation to display their “power”.

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  22. Lauren Cook

    Reading things like this breaks my heart… As an Archaeology major, this truly upsets me. Sometimes I avoid learning about destructions like this, but I know it is essential part of history that I should know for the future. I know it’s not an ‘easy fix’ to save artwork and architecture, for there are other priorities to attend to, but there is a hope inside me that the destruction will stop. I believe the plan could be an option at this point, but, unfortunately, things like this take time to be executed.

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  23. Ellie A

    I think that the “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis” is a great start to saving art. Art should be valued, and that’s just another thing terrible and pathetic about ISIS: The destruction of ancient art to show their “power.” I really think that this is a good first step in solving the problem of the destruction of art the countries have been faced with over the years due to terrorism.

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  24. Noah Dewey

    After reading this article, it seems like nothing short of common sense to put some form of protection on historic art pieces that define the way people have lived throughout time. Isis is hastily destroying many of these pieces due to them trying to incite fear and show power. This Protocol is a very good first step in preserving many important pieces of our history.

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  25. Nicolette Vallee

    So many amazing pieces of art reside throughout this area of the world, so it is very concerning to think that ISIS is destroying some of those. However the fact that individuals are taken steps that may be very dangerous in order to save these pieces gives a little hope to art historians.

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  26. Alli Diehl

    It is really sad that anyone would ever want to destroy art that is valued so much. ISIS wants to destroy our ancestors’ work. Like Ellie Adams said, ISIS is doing this to show the world their powers…and what they are capable of doing, or worse. So much can be learned just from old works of art, and there is still so much to learn from them. Still to this day we do not know how to read certain cuneiform, and other scripts from civilizations. There should definitely be protection over these important artifacts.

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  27. Lostinwonderland

    I can’t believe ISIS would destroy art, out of all the things they could think of. I think ISIS believes if they can destroy the things people value, then they could have utter control. The protocol sounds like a good way to help preserve the art. Thank goodness.

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  28. Abigail Vilcheck

    I fully support the idea of Americans putting into effect a system for protecting the artwork being destroyed by ISIS. Art represents culture, and although it saddens me that is is being demolished I am not surprised at what is happening in order for ISIS to prove points. Because ISIS is destroying the historic art in the first place, though, I do not see this idea going over well with them which I think is a barrier from being able to fully succeed.

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  29. Keegan Wieland

    ISIS has committed countless atrocities. Of course when thinking about grades of importance, saving art is not at the top when thinking about stopping ISIS, but it has become an important project. This is reminiscent of when the NAZIS were attempting to destroy Jewish art in Europe, and there was a campaign to stop this. It is wonderful that there is a great effort to preserve humanity’s history. It would be a tragedy if something as beautiful as Petra were to be damaged beyond repair. We really should be doing all we can to preserve the ancient art and architecture in the Middle East.

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  30. Pratima Kandel

    Saving art from ISIS has become one of the crucial factor for many organizations. ISIS have already used the ancient arts for profit in order to fund the war and now destroying them is beyond evil. However, what can we say , if they can kill innocent people and children , ancient art is far more nothing for them.

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  31. Aria Janello

    “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis” is a great idea not only to protect art but also to raise awareness of the travesties that are happening in the world of art. ISIS does so many terrible things, that the destruction of artistic landmarks is swept around the rug a bit. Not only are they destroying art, but art is being stolen and sold to people all over the world. A big struggle I find is the question: should governments be buying art back from ISIS? Or is that just giving into the control that ISIS wants? Overall, the destruction of art is so upsetting, I am glad to see initiative being made to avoid more destruction.

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