On June 23, 1943, President Roosevelt approved the formation of the "American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas" widely known as "The Roberts Commission," after its chairman, Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts. The work of the "Harvard Group" and the "American Council of Learned Societies" contributed to its establishment.
Thus was born the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA") section under the auspices of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies. Together the Monuments Men worked to protect monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In the last year of the war, they tracked, located, and in the years that followed, returned more than five million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.
The Monuments Men remained in Europe for up to six years following the conclusion of fighting to oversee the complicated restitution of stolen works of art. During that time they played instrumental roles in rebuilding cultural life in the devastated countries of Europe by organizing temporary art exhibitions and musical concerts.
Upon returning home, many of the Monuments Men and women had extraordinarily prominent roles in building some of the greatest cultural and educational institutions in the United States. They became directors and curators of world renowned museums such as the Met, the MOMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and many others. Other revered institutions, such as the New York City Ballet, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, were the tangible results of ideas of the Monuments Men.
Changing Our World
Protecting cultural treasures is a relentless challenge yet timeless obligation. The lessons of the Monuments Men during the world’s most destructive conflict serve as our modern day inspiration.
As part of its mission to honor the legacy of the Monuments Men, themselves and, through their story, to enhance the appreciation of art and cultural heritage as an essential part of understanding humankind, the Foundation plans to initiate a grant competition with other leading cultural institutions to fund projects that educate the public about the importance of protecting civilization’s cultural treasures at all times.
This program will benefit art historians, archaeologists, educators, military leaders and officers, and well as students pursuing careers in the arts, in particular those specializing in provenance research. We believe that major American foundations will join with us and help fund these competitive grants, each in the range of $50,000-150,000, beginning in 2014-15.
In addition, the Foundation will bestow an annual Monuments Men Award, which will be awarded to individuals and institutions who best uphold the principles and ideals of the Monuments Men through their extraordinary contribution to the protection of civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures.
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