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National Trust must 'embrace a wider range of viewpoints' chairman says amid accusations of charity's 'woke agenda'
31 May 2023, 09:02 | Updated: 31 May 2023, 09:04
The National Trust's chairman has said it's time for the charity to 'embrace a wider range of viewpoints' amid 'uncomfortable' conversations surrounding restitution and properties linked to slavery.
Rene Olivieri, who became the National Trust's chairman in February 2022, added that "uncomfortable" conversations needed to take place in order for the charity to move with the times.
Speaking on Tuesday at Hay Festival - the annual literary festival which takes place in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales - Mr Olivieri's comments came amid accusations of the organisation having a "woke agenda".
The subject of returning artefacts their native countries - otherwise known as restitution - has been an ongoing subject for debate in recent months where museums and historical institutions are concerned.
The comments follow a controversial report which linked a number of the National Trust's properties to colonialism and slavery.
Adding that "every truth is shifting", Mr Olivieri added that scientific understanding was constantly evolving and as such, so should the viewpoints of other fields.
"Perhaps we're going through a paradigm shift here, just making people feel uncomfortable," he said.
"So, what do we do about that? The fact that some people are feeling uncomfortable, do we just accept that that's part of the journey we're going to have to make as a society, this move to embrace a wider range of viewpoints, or is there a certain way of engaging with people who say "no, that's not the history I learned at school, I don't know why you're dumping on some important person that I really admire and loved in the past"?
"I think that the idea of restitution which is now very much in the news. We are in the process of creating our own policy in the National Trust, we will be following the advice that's been given to all organisations like us by the Museums Association, by the Arts Council," Mr Olivieri said.
"I understand these are huge issues. Provenance needs to come into it, public access, public benefit... I think that's a question for the future, I'm certainly not in a position to answer that today."
Speaking on the subject of youth engagement, Mr Olivieri said the Trust is "not bringing enough young people" to properties across the UK, highlighting the Trust's increased presence across "urban areas and not just country houses".
The comments form part of a wider debate surrounding the future of artefacts originating in countries connected to colonialism and slavery links to National Trust properties.
A National Trust spokesman has since added: "Arts Council guidance recommends that museums should work towards establishing and publishing on their website a policy on restitution and repatriation.
"The National Trust does not yet have a policy but this is our intention, in line with the guidance.
"Currently, we would follow the Museums Association code of Ethics and the Arts Council Guidance on Restitution and Repatriation around any requests made."