It was a glittering evening at the Savore Ristorante in the heart of Soho in New York City for the fifth annual SAFE Beacon Awards. The event drew authors, academics, attorneys, publishing and marketing professionals, SAFE members and friends to honor 2011 Award Winners Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, co-authors of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum.
The Beacon Awards recognize those individuals who strive to preserve humanity’s most precious non-renewable resource: the intact evidence of our undiscovered past.
Guests enjoyed a delectable gourmet dinner in an intimate candlelight setting animated by lively conversation. It was a time to meet new acquaintances and catch up with old friends. Cindy Ho, the founder of SAFE, welcomed the gathering, remarking how their presence was a much appreciated testimony to their support of SAFE’s mission to safeguard the world’s cultural legacies. She also thanked all the volunteers who continue to work so hard for SAFE.
Irina Tarsis, SAFE vice president, highlighted the ongoing work of SAFE, including planned education efforts and the current web site redesign. Treasurer Senta German related the upcoming review by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) of applications by Belize and Bulgaria. CPAC’s role is to advise the President of the United States (or his designee) on appropriate reaction to requests from other governments in protecting their cultural heritage. Restrictions by the U.S. on importing artifacts undermine the incentives for looters to plunder ancient sites by eliminating the American market.
In bestowing the Beacon Awards, Cindy spoke of the importance of Chasing Aphrodite and the contributions made by Felch and Frammolino.
“Chasing Aphrodite is an exposé of the devastating effects of trading in black market and illegal antiquities, and starkly depicts how greed and the disregard of laws can undermine the foundations of our cultural institutions,” said Ho. “SAFE is proud to recognize Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino for their investigative reporting that reveals the dark side of the antiquities trade. The truth that they tell has reverberated not only in the art world, but among all people who cherish our collective past.”
As investigative reporters at the Los Angeles Times, Felch and Frammolino broke the story of the J. Paul Getty Museum and its role in buying illicit and looted antiquities. Felch and Frammolino were finalists for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for their series of articles about the case. The book was drawn from their reports.
Called “a riveting cautionary tale” by the Los Angeles Times, Chasing Aphrodite is an indictment against the museum industry when an insatiable drive for antiquities corrupts cultural institutions and circumvents international law.
“This is a human story of greed and avarice,” said Frammolino. “This story is important because we’re talking about humanity’s culture and humanity’s history. Preserving these is very important because that’s how we learn about the past. When collectors obtain objects with no past, we’re encouraging looting and we’re destroying knowledge.”
Felch compared the illicit antiquities trade and Getty’s complicity to recent scandals involving well established art and other institutions. “This story reveals details we didn’t know before about cultural institutions we cherish. It tells us what happens to institutions that have lost their way and gone astray from their missions. The more people know and understand this, the more likely these institutions can get back on track and operate for their true purpose: to help us understand the ancient world.”
After the award presentations Felch and Frammolino signed copies of Chasing Aphrodite.
SAFE wants to thank the members of the 2011 Beacon Awards Committee and other volunteers for their efforts in producing such a memorable event: Katherine Lewis, Azure Wheeler, Toni Mione and Shirley Gazsi.