October 2018: The new independent Centre, whose establishment was announced two years ago by the Dutch government, has now opened under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and is sited at the NIOD (Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies) in Amsterdam. See the NIOD announcement here.
The Decree of 20 September 2018 establishing the Centre was published at the beginning of October 2018 as the 'Decree of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science and the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and Media of 20 September 2018, no. 1381345 amending the Decree on the Advisory Committee on Restitution Applications for Cultural Goods and Second World War in connection with the establishment of an Expertise Center for the Second World War and Restitution requests, as well as some technical adjustments'. It is available here.
The Decree modifies the original Decree of 2001 establishing the Dutch Restitutions Committee. It provides for two purposes for the new Research Centre. Rather than being a part of the Committee as before, the research function has been separated out to become an independent Research Centre. The Decree enables the Committee to request the Centre to conduct its fact-finding investigations.
In addition, the Decree gives the Centre a second and new function, foreseen in the letter of 4 October 2016 sent by the Culture Minister Mrs Bussemaker to the House of Representatives, in which she stated that: “The applicant and the current owner will be given a more central role in the procedure for restituting art stolen by the Nazis than they had previously. They are primarily responsible for finding a mutually satisfactory solution. The parties can decide jointly to submit their case to the Restitutions Committee. However, they can also decide first to commission a factual report from the Centre of Expertise, which they can use to decide whether they can arrive at a solution that is satisfactory to both of them. The factual report gives them initial guidance for making a decision. If they cannot find a mutually satisfactory solution, they can still submit their case to the Restitutions Committee.”
This new function is embodied in the Decree of 20 September 2018, which states 'whether or not in anticipation of a request for advice [decision] to the Committee' at the joint request of the parties and aimed at achieving a satisfactory solution for them [the parties can] request the Research Centre to conduct a fact-finding investigation'.
The New 'Initial Research' Option
The Centre has been given the task to conduct research, free of charge, for the benefit of two parties who wish to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution for a restitution request, rather than going to the Restitutions Committee for a binding opinion. Parties may jointly file such a request for ‘Initial Research’, as it is called, at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). If the request satisfies a number of requirements (it is expected that these will be published shortly) the Centre will independently conduct an impartial investigation into the facts. The results of this investigation will be drafted in a report, which will be handed by the Minister to the requesting parties.
On the basis of the independent investigation, parties may then decide that there is enough common ground to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to both of them. If this is not the case, or if they need additional guidance, they may seek mediation or advice in the form they desire, including a recommendation from the Restitutions Committee.
This new ‘Initial research’ option is primarily useful in case of claims on art that are not part of the Dutch State Collection, in order to enable the parties to find a mutually agreed solution on the basis of neutral fact finding. For objects from the Dutch State Collection, it is also possible to request ‘Initial research’, but if the claimant wishes to maintain their restitution claim, the Minister will always request a recommendation from the Restitutions Committee, as it has been the case since 2001.
Relationship of the Centre with the Dutch Museums Association
The purpose of the relationship is the safeguarding of results stemming from the previous provenance research projects initiated by the Dutch Museums Association. The individual museums that are part of the Dutch Museums Association have been conducting provenance research on their collections since 2009 as part of the project ‘Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards’. That project had a fixed term and the temporary organization around it has been (or is being) disbanded. It would be considered regrettable if the accumulated knowledge were to be lost and awareness would diminish as a result.
As a result, what is currently being investigated is how to properly centralise and secure the accrued knowledge and information from these projects, including the transfer and maintenance of the existing website, the continued publishing of additional findings, as well as the continuation of some of the services that were previously provided by the museum project organisation, such as maintaining awareness of the necessity of continued provenance research, informing collection owners on the best standards with regard to provenance research, etc.