Cultural Heritage / Greece / Innovation

Privatization of Cultural Heritage?

The Parthenon (©Photo by Nikolaos Chatziandreou)

The Parthenon (©Photo by Nikolaos Chatziandreou)

What is the role of private industry and the public in the discovery, preservation and protection of cultural heritage?

American archeologist Stephen Miller who as been working in Greece for the last 40 years, released a storm in a Time magazine article “Can Privatization Save the Treasures of Ancient Greece”.

Noted in Time magazine with the following:

Equally frustrating to the 72-year-old is the lack of hotels and restaurants to serve visitors to the site. “The Ministry of Culture does some things very well: it does conservation work extremely well, they are very good at setting up exhibitions,” says Miller. “They are lousy businessmen.”

In a detailed proposal sent to the government at the end of last year, Miller suggests letting private companies take over the development, promotion and security of certain under-exploited sites in exchange for a share of revenue generated from tourists. Miller states clearly in his proposal and one that he identifies as a critical statement, is that

“It is also guided by the principle of privatization, not of the antiquities themselves, but of their exploitation, and the belief that a private company, driven by a profit motive, will protect and use the antiquities in the best possible way since those very antiquities are the source of the company’s long-term income.”

Miller suggests private enterprises should agree to purchase surrounding land; protect and guard site; hire local workmen or women; create  revenue opportunities from gift shop sales as well as ticket sales to site and museum; and, hire Greek trained archeologists both young and old, among other points.

Hard to imagine one would argue with merging two valuable assets of Greece – archeologically trained young and older professionals with the unique Greek cultural heritage in antiquities.

Yet, the Association of Greek Archeologists responded in Ekathimerini “Greek archaeologists reject call for private firms to manage ancient sites, as noted, with:

“Greek archaeologists rejected suggestions that private companies should be allowed to run ancient sites, insisting that this task should be retained by the state.”

In Greece, a land rich with cultural heritage coveted by universal museums, private collectors and businesses seeking new opportunities,

is any type of privatization a legitimization of plunder as so well remembered historically?


is there an entrepreneurial answer to support the work of archeologists, the Ministry of Culture and ultimately, the public  (the global community) who benefit from the knowledge learned?

Lastly, how does the global community at large deal with the inevitable reality of development?

Cairo - Flood Time near Pyramids

Cairo – Flood Time near Pyramids – 100 years ago

Phoenix Rising - Cairo - (©Photo by Keri Douglas)

Phoenix Rising – Cairo – (©Photo by Keri Douglas, 2009)

Do you have an idea, suggestion or comment? Leave a comment below. Let’s discuss.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, DC. Special thanks to Nikolaos Chatziandreou for permission to use his photo of the Parthenon.

To read the full proposal – click  Proposal by Professor Stephen Miller to the Greek Ministry of Culture.


17 thoughts on “Privatization of Cultural Heritage?

  1. This exchange in Time magazine and Ekathimerini reminded me of the first time I visited the legendary Alamo of mythical proportions in American history in Texas . I must say it is lost in the clutter of McDonalds and development. It was tragic to see the commercialization of history, as the history and lessons that could be learned were completely overshadowed.

    However, this exchange opens the discussion, how can private industry support the work and knowledge gained by archeologists, scientists and culture officials?

    With limited resources, how can a Ministry of Culture (any ministry) be more efficient and do more to share their knowledge, expertise and ultimately, the objects being discovered in the earth?

  2. This is a great topic and got me thinking about other great cultural or world heritage sites. I’ve heard some good things about visiting Hadrian’s Wall, that it seems to be a nice balance of good places to stay and eat that don’t take away from the beauty of the site. Plus it looks like there’s a campaign to keep it well preserved. Maybe it is about balance.

  3. You bring up a great point!

    At what time, does a historical site welcome the general public and what amenities should be offered?

    Made me think of the Lincoln Memorial in DC. The NPS offers the basics (restrooms, gift shop and a little food kiosk close by). This is in the middle of the city, so hotels are not that far away – a good walk.

    On the other hand, at the pyramids in Giza …. very limited in amenities and even education, which I found surprising given the vast media coverage. All of the media businesses that have profited from their coverage of Giza, no one could leave any educational platforms behind?

  4. Interesting topic, Keri. I suppose balance (as Annina discusses) would be necessary. Ruling bodies/groups would need Regulatory checks and balances so it didn’t end up like The Alamo (unless they were going for that effect). Then, who decides these things? Democratic vote from the people? People/groups with the most $$$? Opportunities for corruption? Hmm…

  5. Katie, you bring up really good points. Transparency and balance along with intention and rewards.

    Am curious to know who is being innovative and matching good business skills with cultural heritage.

  6. There’s so much could be said about this. I guess we need to distinguish between the private delivery of services around an archaeological site and the private management of a site. Under both circumstances it seems important to ensure that the private sector doesn’t attempt to shape outcomes to point where sound archaeology & conservation is compromised.

    I don’t enjoy archaeological sites that have a clutter of privately owned enterprises around them. The magnificent Buddhist monument Borobudur comes to mind. Gaining entrance to the place is easy enough but there’s a maze of souvenir and food stalls blocking the exit. This is a monument that is best seen from unobstructed vantage points but I’m afraid the masses of stalls really detract from the beauty of the site. Stonehenge on the other hand, stands alone with commercial ventures set unobtrusively well away.

    Private management of a site is a vexed question. From the start a site would need a sound regulatory framework to ensure that the fundamental conditions I’ve already cited were met. Quite apart from the Parthenon, there are so many examples of private initiatives and private control of sites or parts of sites that have led to significant destruction and exploitation. I think of the past impact of private initiatives in Egypt, for example.

  7. The problem is that a large number of Greece’s archaeological sites and museums are underdeveloped or not accessible to the public. And this is not a new problem due to the current economic crisis.

    Stephen Miller proposes a feasible solution for this problem.

    What’s the solution proposed by the Ministry of Culture?

  8. Thank you for your comment. I agree the right balance, parameters must be established before any partners are included in any initiative.

    Thinking forward – without the constraints of the past – it would be interesting to explore what technology or public/private partnerships would support and enhance the Greek (or any country) heritage research and public education.

    For example, put their technology to use to fight against rhino poaching and wildlife trafficking in South Africa.

    This is just one tech solution. There are so many. This may help save costs on side of the equation.

  9. Thank you so much for your comment.

    By chance to you have the proposal suggested by Stephen Miller?

    What do you appreciate most in his recommendations?

    Or – what would be your recommendation on how to develop and at what point in the research would you allow access to the public?

    Thanks, again.

  10. Professor Miller seeks to open a debate about how to protect the many unexplored and undefended sites in Greece, which the Greek Govt are unable to do.
    He does not seek to “Disneyfy” these valuable national assets but to provide them with valuable defence against looters and thieves.
    As a man who has spent 40+ of his life bringing back to life Nemea and the Games there he is the last one who would want to privatise any archeological site or the heritage of Greece.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your comments.

    Do you, by chance, have a copy of Professor Miller’s proposal?

    I would be happy to share it and start a discussion around it.

    Many thanks,

  12. Humbeled and awed by the amazing volume of all the enlightening information on the topic of privatization of Greek archeological sites. I wish my sister was here to contribute something of value. She excavated many sites in both Kos and Phodos and was very much aware of what would be the best approach.

    I learned a great deal today. Congratulations Keri for caring and for posting hot topics, iniciating conversations and solutions.

    Everyone made a valid point. Leaving our sites to the Goverment has not produced very good results, speaking as one who has seen the neglect from my sister’s and her daughter’s perspective. Both of them have given many many years in the service of archeology. On the other hand, I am not sure how commercialization of the sites would be in Greece where everything is in small scale and in harmony with the Greek spirit, land and ideals. Professor Miller’s proposal sounds the best to me. “An entrepreneurial answer to support the work of archeologists, the Ministry of Culture and ultimately, the public (the global community) who benefit from the knowledge learned.” sounds great as well.

    I hope this post will spark something of value so that new initiatives are taken for the best.

  13. Katina,
    Thank you so much for sharing your comments. It is so important to exchange ideas and consider everyone’s experiences, knowledge and even, frustrations.
    Perhaps in this new global paradigm new partnerships may evolve…
    Thanks, again!

  14. I would like to congratulate Prof Miller for his dedication and long career. I’m a bit confused and slightly embarrassed with the points raised by the Arhaeologists in Greece. I assume that these arguments came from the Greek Archaeologists’ Association (Public Servants). In that case I’m not surprised at all.
    In my opinion, rejecting any discussion on private assistance sounds wrong. It seems they prefer the lazy approach that brought Greece to its current state: “Leave everything to the State”. Even though EVERYBODY blames the “corrupted governments” of the last 40 years for all Greece’s misfortunes and ugly financial situation of today.

    I hope that there are still people that can look further than 4 years ahead (Greece’s election cycle) and plan for the future. With proper regulation and diligent audit mechanisms I believe we could find a way for the introduction of assistance by the private sector.

    The recent Louvre’s appeal for the Conservation Treatment of the Winged Victory of Samothrace is a good example ( . Together with major Louvres’ Patrons that provided 3,000,000 Euro, 6700 private donors came on board raising over 1,000,000 Euro. I don’t think we will see a SOLD sign when the restoration is complete or any of these donors or Patrons can claim ownership of the sculpture.

    I hope that common sense will prevail so we can see a better future of Greek archaeology and secure archaeological sites.

    One more point that I would like to raise is that Greek Government could test any proposed private involvement with pilot projects. This will give the government the opportunity to test and fine-tune any new models on a smaller scale before they expand it.

    Dennis Tritaris

  15. Great discussion on this great article! One of the better combinations of cultural heritage and modern business savvy is the York Archaeological Trust in York, UK. This contract CRM firm not only is an active archaeology contractor, but makes it part of their mission to involve the public in their urban projects. They offer multiple field school sessions during the summer dig season, and a year-round school program called DIG! housed in a historic, decommissioned church building. In addition to all of this, they run multiple education centers in York which house various re-enactors, museum-type exhibits, and programs. As always, there are some controversial aspects of their presentation but I think they are a great example of running a business in the black hand-in-hand with public, accessible, educational programming. I also quite like West Stow, an experimental archaeology site which focuses on Anglo-Saxon archaeology. Multiple buildings have been rebuilt on the site of an excavated early medieval settlement, using different techniques, and these buildings are lived in, worked in, moved through, used for tours and events, and are allowed to actively decay to better interpret the archaeological record. On-site, there is a modern cafe, educational center, archaeology lab, research offices, and a museum.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing.

    It is so important to learn from these public/private partnerships that are working well and for the public good.

    Professor Miller’s proposal does start the conversation how can the private industry support the public duty to research, protect and preserve archaeological sites and their treasures both physically and intellectually.

    Your examples are excellent demonstrations how a private enterprise can support cultural heritage.

    Thank you!

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