Albuquerque Museum Director Andrew Connors has got himself a new side hustle. The museum head has been appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as a member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Connors joins 10 other presidentially appointed members tasked with reviewing requests for import restrictions submitted to the United States by foreign governments. The committee also considers proposals to extend existing agreements and emergency actions, carries out ongoing review of current import restrictions and provides reports of findings and recommendations to the Department of State.
“I first received an email in December 2020 that my name had been recommended for consideration by the President Elect Biden transition committee,” recalls Connors. “They asked in that email if I would be willing to consider a position working with his administration. Every few months I received another e-mail informing me that I was still under consideration to play some role with the administration.”
In May of last year, Connors was finally notified that he was being looked at for a role on the Cultural Properties Advisory Committee. The notification included a handy link to the State Department website, informing him what the committee actually does. The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, which became federal law in 1983, established the 11-member committee to ensure that the U.S. government receives advice from “diverse public interests” in cultural property matters. The goal of the act and the committee is to “prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.” That “cultural property” can broadly be defined as indigenous art, archeological treasures and other items of historical import to a particular nation. The committee includes two members who represent the interests of museums; three members who are expert in archaeology, anthropology, ethnology or related fields; three members who are expert in the international sale of cultural property; and three members who represent the interest of the general public.
“All through this process I was asked to keep it secret that I was under consideration,” says Connors. “In July I was notified that I had been selected and was asked for specific biographical and professional experience.” At that point Connors asked if he could notify his boss to insure that his employer (the Department of Arts & Culture with the City of Albuquerque) would allow him to take on the responsibility. In November of last year, nearly two years after Connors was first contacted, the State Department officially announced the list of the newly appointed and reappointed members of the committee. Connors was on it, as one of the two members representing the cultural interests of museums.
The appointment is, if anything, a testament to Connors’s experience. In 2018 he was named director of the Albuquerque Museum. Before that he served as the museum’s curator of art, a position he began in 2009. Connors’s previous roles include chair of the Visual Arts Department at Albuquerque Academy (2006 to 2009), senior curator at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque (1999 to 2006) and associate curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (1984 to 1999). It was at the Smithsonian that he developed collections and exhibitions on Hispanic, Latino, Native American and Folk Art. His experience with cultural objects from throughout the Americas is evident.
Connors studied Art History and Architecture at Yale University and did his graduate work in Folklore and American Studies at George Washington University. He has curated dozens of exhibitions, primarily in the areas of United States Latino Art, Colonial Art from Puerto Rico, Contemporary Art and Graffiti. He recently completed an exhibition on the history of jewelry in New Mexico from prehistory to the present, the first exhibition to look at this material from all cultural backgrounds.
How Connors’s name got in front of the President remains a mystery, however. “I did not submit my name for consideration, nor do I know how my name got to the Biden transition team. I hope some day to know how this happened and am appreciative that someone out there had confidence that I could help with this important federal process which pays respect to international governments in determining the future of their national patrimony.”
Connors will, of course, retain his day job at the Albuquerque Museum. But he’s eagerly awaiting his first committee meeting. “We will meet four times a year in Washington, DC to listen to requests from foreign governments to provide United States protection for foreign cultural properties. The meetings will last three days, at least at the start, as we try to work through a backlog of requests. Our first meeting will be at the end of January and early February.” Among the topics the committee will be tackling in their first meeting are extending and amending a cultural property agreement with the government of Cambodia. They’ll also be reviewing new requests from the governments of North Macedonia and Uzbekistan to restrict imports on archaeological and ethnological materials dating as far back as 300,000 BC. For the time being, says Connors, “We have started remote training on procedures and protocols and are working through the security clearances.”
Given his years of of experience working in cultural institutions, Connors is taking the new federal assignment seriously. “My role on the committee is to represent the concerns of the Museum community, specifically to insure that recommendations made by this committee do not hamper the educational, scientific and historic role played by museums for the public benefit,” says Connors. “I hope I will be a voice of reason in respecting the concerns of foreign governments while supporting and upholding the laws and practices of our country. I am thrilled that our nation participates in the international community in this way to respect other cultures and practices and learn from them.”