December 21, 2018

Marc Balcells returns to Amelia this summer to teach "How to Analyze Art Crime Empirically” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection


By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 31 through August 15th in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, a number of this year’s professors will be interviewed. 

This time, I have been speaking with Marc Balcells, who sits in his office at Pompeu Fabra University, overlooking the busy and beautiful harbor of Barcelona. Pompeu Fabra University is among the five fastest-growing universities in the world, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, and a place of excellence in both research and education.

Marc Balcells giving a lecture at the prestigious Conervatori del Licieu in Barcelona

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am a professor at the open university of Catalonia (UOC) and an associate professor at Pompeu Fanta University (UPF). I teach mostly criminology and criminal law. I hold degrees in Criminology, Law and Human Sciences, as well as a Masters in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. I also hold a PhD in Criminal Justice. My research focuses mostly around transnational and organized crime, mostly related to cultural heritage crime. I also conduct research on cybercrime (and antiquities trafficking) among other issues such as the history of criminology and crime.

What do you feel is most relevant about your course? 

My course is all about researching empirically from a criminological angle. It implies that participants must learn to research also from this angle: that is, instead of piling up information on any given art crime that will probably be collected from books and newspapers.  The course gives participants a tool to conduct serious research and learn how to design a research project within the field of cultural heritage crime. Challenging participants to see what serious research they are able to conduct in order to improve our knowledge on this field is essential! And of course, in the meantime participants not only learn about cultural heritage crime but also about criminology and criminological theory, using other crimes as examples of crime in general, as it is one of our everyday realities that we must live with.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses? 

A fascination for a criminological point of view when analyzing cultural heritage crime, as well as an enchantment with the field of criminology and a fascination for the craft of research.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

A dialogue between myself and the participants. I do ask a lot of questions in order to prompt debate: getting to know what participants think about on different topics is very enriching. But I also like to challenge them and to see how they research art theft, or looting, to name two crimes, by giving them research examples and seeing how they would improve them or simply do things differently.

Marc Balcells explaining crimes in the art world on Spanish television

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything that you learn from them in class?

So many things! Participants must know that before I became a professor in this degree, I was a student in it: I sat on both sides of the classroom and, therefore, I do know what is to be a student participant and what I wanted from a professor when I was studying. I am not only a professor on the ARCA Program but a am a graduate of it! 

I am inquisitive by nature, but much more in class. I love to ask questions and see their points of view. Also, I do love to meet with the participants after classes and enjoy a tea with them while chatting about art crime in general or helping them with their projects.

In anticipation of your course, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to the participants? 

In my case, I would recommend that they read academic research produced by scholars in whichever field of cultural heritage crime they are interested in. I can assure you that they are as fascinating as any other art crime book that is being written by journalists, for example. Therefore, I would recommend they read everything that interests them, both scholarly and non-scholarly.

What makes the annual ARCA program so unique?

Let’s say it like this, it is the intensity: where else can you learn so much, working with top experts in this field? It is intensive and complete and, at the same time, it immerses you in the local culture of Amelia, in Italy, which is an open-air museum. Field trips organized by the program gives participants the in-depth experience needed to grasp most of the subjects discussed in the courses. It is the perfect setting!

Field trips and an open-air museum around you….
 
Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

So many. Since I was once an ARCA participant myself, new courses have developed, and I would love, especially, to attend Professor Christos Tsirogiannis’ course on the hidden market of illicit antiquities. I admire his work and he is a great colleague. He was a great help with my earlier research and I could not be more grateful. He is widely acknowledged as an expert in the field and his media attention and the scope of his work is simply amazing! Again, it is the living proof of what I mentioned in my previous answer. Learning all about antiquities trafficking with Professor Tsirogiannis in Italy is an opportunity not to be missed!

Is there anything you can recommend to future participants of things to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Come with an open and ready mind. Learn the culture of the place in which you will be living during your summer there. And be ready to learn a lot: work hard and there can be fantastic rewards afterwards. It is a fantastic field and it requires more and more trained minds to work in it!

Museums, museums, museums…

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class? 

Indeed! We are still good friends after all these years, with my colleagues. We have so many good memories with the locals, the professors, regarding the field we made... it is a summer-long experience. The food, the setting, the people...

What is your experience with the annual ARCA conference in June? 

Sadly, I am always immersed teaching courses at that time and I cannot attend as much as I want, but I am changing this. I presented or attended years ago, and it is overwhelming being able to meet colleagues in this field and getting to know their research and the latest advances. These are very intense days: it is not only the conference, but the networking involved, in every single meeting. And of course, some fun to be had too, as the dinners and lunches are always fantastic!

Amelia...

Anything last thoughts? 

I would like to end this interview by saying that I am looking forward, as every year, to meeting our new cohorts. I always come back to Amelia and ARCA with a fluttering heart, knowing I will get to meet and get to know new participants, see again some old friends, and spend days teaching and talking about cultural heritage crime.

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For a detailed prospectus and application materials, or for general questions about this postgraduate program, please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 




Edgar Tijhuis in the ARCA Library

Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Since 2008, Edgar Tijhuis has also been teaching a number of classes on the program and he will teach again in 2019.

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