Public Forum: Stewards of the Sacred

This open conversation presented findings from the working sessions of the Stewards of the Sacred conference and opened the discussion to an interested public. "Stewards of the Sacred: Sacred Artifacts, Religious Culture, and the Museum as Social Institution," a gathering of leading museum directors from around the world, focused on how issues related to the care of sacred objects  have shaped current museum policy and practice, and what benefits museums have gained from their creative attention to these issues.

The discussion was moderated by Ronne Hartfield, former Executive Director of Museum Education, the Art Institute of Chicago, and included responses by

  • Alison Edwards, Project Director, Religion and the Arts Initiative, Center for the Study of World Religions
  • Pierre Fortin, Resident Partner, Vovan & Associés, Rome and Milan, and Director of External Relations, the French Ministry of Culture and Communications' Committee for the Preservation and Enrichment of the Patrimony of Worship
  • Douglas Greenberg, President and CEO, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
  • Elaine Heumann Gurian, former Deputy Director, United States Holocaust Museum
  • Tom Hill, Director, Woodland Cultural Centre
  • Jonathan King, Curator, North America, the British Museum
  • Yutaka Mino, Director and Chief Curator, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art
  • Dan L. Monroe, Executive Director and CEO, Peabody Essex Museum
  • Steven Newsome, Director, Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
  • Dominique Ponnau, Director, L'ecole du Louvre
  • Katharine Lee Reid, Director, Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Douglas Sharon, Director and CEO, San Diego Museum of Man
  • Te Taru White, Kaihautu, Te Papa Tonqarewa National Museum of New Zealand
  • Lawrence Sullivan, Director, Center for the Study of World Religions
  • Martin Sullivan, Executive Director, Historic St. Mary's City
  • Roslyn Adele Walker, Director, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Rubie Watson, Director, Peabody Museum, Harvard University
  • W. Richard West, Founding Director of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

This discussion illustrated that issues involving religion and museum practice—such as the repatriation of American Indian artifacts, including funerary objects, human remains, and artifacts used in contemporary ceremonial observances—affect not only museums of religion or indigenous cultures. Museums of art, natural history, science, and anthropology also wrestle with issues involving sacredness and religion, and important policy developments may result.