The Smithsonian recognizes the value of community representation in its collections. Preserving and making available to the public—with honor and respect—a diverse range of collections, stories, and histories is essential to carrying out the Smithsonian’s role as collaborative custodian of cultural and historical legacies. Therefore, the Smithsonian is committed to working transparently and in consultation with individuals, descendent communities, and other stakeholders to consider matters of shared stewardship and the potential return of collections based on ethical considerations.
“This new policy is a cultural shift in our concepts of possession, ownership, and stewardship of collections. Its adoption is an expression of our values and commitment to meet our ethical obligations as a national and international cultural institution.” – Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III
The National Museum of African Art acknowledges the potential harm caused or perpetuated by the continued retention of contested items and the historical exclusion of communities from interpretation, care, and authority. We are committed to transparent and sincere engagement with source communities on matters of shared stewardship as well as on the potential return of items based on ethical considerations.
We welcome all inquiries and requests for shared stewardship or the ethical return of items. Requests can be made by emailing NMAfA-SSER@si.edu.