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January 11, 2019

Dorit Straus returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Insurance Claims and the Art Trade” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Insurance Industry Expert, Dorit Straus, a former Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, who is now an independent Art & Insurance Advisor.

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

My educational background is in Middle Eastern archeology. I participated in geographical and archeological surveys and excavated in Tel Hatzor  in northern Israel.  The dig was under the direction of the famous archeologist Yigael Yadin, who went on to become Israel's deputy prime minister but also helped to acquire the Dead Sea Scrolls, identified the historical significance of Masada, and made Israelis in general feel more connected to their ancient past.   I also worked with Amnon Ben Tor, professor (emeritus) at the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University.

I then proceeded to work with objects at various museums such as the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. While there I curated an exhibition "Samaria Revisited,"an exhibit on Harvard University's 1918 Reisner /Harvard expedition.  I was lucky to find original field notes as well as many of the objects that were housed at the Harvard Semitic Museum.

I then changed my career course and joined the Chubb Group of Insurance companies as a property underwriting trainee - and that led to a 30 year career which culminated in creating a specialized fine arts discipline within the company  something that they did not have before.

I am very happy that after all these years I have come full circle back to my first passion, which is archeology and cultural preservation.  I was appointed in 2016 by President Obama to serve with ten other experts on the US State Department's , Office of the Inspector General "Cultural Property Advisory Committee" (CPAC), where the members, representing the interests of museums and the fields of archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, and other related areas do important work in preventing looted or illegally excavated objects from entering the US.

CPAC advises the Department on the actions the United States should take in response to requests from at risk source countries for assistance in protecting cultural property by enacting import restrictions using cultural memoranda of understanding.

We also support the source countries with resources and educational support through various mechanisms. You can learn more by checking the US State Department's web site.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

I think that I provide real life scenarios to explain the insurance transaction - it’s very much the way it is- not theoretical.  I think insurance touches many aspects of what people in the “arts” are involved in - they are just not aware of it.

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

A better understanding how insurance can be one of the tools to help them view the entire picture.  Insurance underwriters work out the risk for insuring a particular object. To underwrite insurance means to accept financial responsibility for clients’ potential losses and this is something participants come to understand through my course. 

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

In the beginning, most participants come into the course without knowing anything about fine art insurance, so I start with the basics, illustrated by slides and actual cases. I am very open to discussion and questions as long as it relates to the subject matter. The last day of the course is the most fun with participant demonstrations of what they learned. We divide into teams and with a lot of role playing their are able to express what the enormous amount of learning they have gleaned as everything falls into place.

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

I am impressed at how quickly they grasp things  I am particularly impressed how inventive and original the team presentations at the conclusion of the course are!

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

There are a lot of movies about art theft or forgery - most of them not realistic but still fun - like The Thomas Crown Affair. The movie Gambit with Cameron Diaz and Colin Firth and How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole  are good.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

ARCA's Provenance course and any of the sessions which touch upon the art market itself. 

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

Eat the fabulous food, visits local vineyards, walk through the olive groves, travel to the nearby towns, and also further away - take the opportunity of to explore and be in Italy.

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

Not anything funny, but I have Italian friends who I have known for 40 years.  Because of ARCA I am able to visit them every year either in Rome or at their seaside home south of Rome - it’s a real treat for me!

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

The conference is a great opportunity to learn about what is happening today in the art and cultural arena plus wonderful networking possibilities.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at  

Edgar Tijhuis at the ARCA Library
Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.