Real Price of art: International UNESCO campaign reveals hidden face of art trafficking

UNESCO is launching an international communication campaign to make the general public and art lovers aware of the devastation of the history and identity of peoples wreaked by the illicit trade in cultural goods, which is estimated to be worth nearly $10 billion each year. As shown by The Real Price of Art campaign, in some cases, the looting of archaeological sites, which fuels this traffic, is highly organized and constitutes a major source of financing for criminal and terrorist organizations.

The campaign marks the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property adopted in 1970. Developed by UNESCO with concrete measures to combat this scourge, the Convention is a global framework of reference in this field.

Illicit trafficking is a blatant theft of the memory of peoples. Raising awareness and calling for the utmost vigilance is necessary to fight this largely under-recognized reality.

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General

The Real Price of Art campaign, created with the communication agency DDB Paris, draws on the language of the worlds of art and design to reveal the dark truth behind certain works. Each visual presents an object in situ, integrated into a buyer’s home. The other side of the decor is then revealed: terrorism, illegal excavation, theft from a museum destroyed by war, the cancelling of a people’s memory… Each message tells the story of an antique stolen from a region of the world (Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America).

Broadcast from 20 October, the campaign is the harbinger of a number of events to mark the anniversary, among them the first International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property (14 November), and an international conference (16-18 November) organized in partnership with the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the European Commission and the Council of Europe. The conference aims to take the measure of priorities and challenges in fighting illicit trafficking by region and share solutions. A special issue of the UNESCO Courier is also devoted to this topic and available online.

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