2015 Conference Featured Speakers:
Ruth J. Abrams
Ruth J. Abram founded the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the National Women’s Agenda and Coalition, the Institute on Women’s History and the traveling exhibition and book “Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America, 1835 - 1920.” Her writing has been published by a wide range of publications including The Midwest Poetry Review, The New York Times Book Review, History News, The Washington Post, The Public Historian, and The Guardian. A popular speaker, she has appeared before audiences from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to the Conference Board and the Family Service Association of America. Her numerous media appearances include World News Tonight, The Today Show, and National Public Radio. She has consulted on historic interpretation for museums around the world including the National Park Service, the National Public Housing Museum, several Shaker Museums, Lincoln’s Cottage, Weeksville, the Gulag Museum in Russia, the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, and the Workhouse Museum in Great Britain. Along with David Arnow, Mary C. Boys and Muhammad Shafiq, Ms. Abram produced Exodus Conversations, a web based multi-faith dialogue on the story of the Exodus as it appears in the Hebrew Bible and the Qu’ran.
In New York City, she is working with a group of shareholders in her co-op to establish “Vertical Village,” a caring community to enhance urban living. In New Lebanon, New York, she spearheaded the organization of “Explore New Lebanon,” to weave weekenders into the fabric of the life of this Berkshire town. In addition, working with local people, she is organizing Behold! New Lebanon: A Living Museum of Contemporary Rural American Life.
A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College with an MSW from Brandeis’s Florence Heller School, Ms. Abram has an MA in American History from New York University, where she was a Kennan Fellow. Her work has been recognized by awards from The Aspen Institute, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Russell Sage College, Muhlenberg College and Hebrew Union College. In 1975, she was appointed Commissioner of International Women’s Year in 1975 by President Jimmy Carter. A collage artist, Ms. Abram conducts workshops for people of all ages at the New Lebanon Library, and her work has been exhibited in New York City and Upstate New York and is in numerous private collections. She has been married to Herbert Teitelbaum, an attorney, since 1967. Their daughter, Anna Kaye and their son, Noah Abram Teitelbaum live with their respective spouses and children in Denver, Colorado.
Elizabeth Silkes has over 15 years of experience in all aspects of non-profit leadership and development, with a particular expertise in expanding the reach and impact of dynamic international organizations. As Executive Director of The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Liz guides the strategic growth of a thriving coalition of 250 museums, historic sites and memory initiatives in 45 countries. Through regional and issue-based networks, the Coalition supports members across the globe in developing innovative public engagement and human rights programs through exhibit design and methodological guidance, peer-learning exchanges, project grants, and joint advocacy initiatives. Prior to joining the Coalition, Liz served as CEO of Cinereach, a foundation supporting film and media projects focused on social change and as Executive Director of FilmAid International, a humanitarian relief organization using film and video to address the needs of refugees and other displaced communities. Prior to joining FilmAid, she led the major gifts program at Amnesty International USA to record growth while advocating for human rights in the US and abroad. Her extensive experience with community-based media projects gives her a unique perspective on the power of the personal story to move new audiences from past to present and memory to action. As a featured speaker at conferences and workshops around the world, Liz has addressed issues ranging from psycho-social relief initiatives in refugee communities to the role of memory in emerging democracies and post-conflict settings.
Robert K. Wittman
Robert K. Wittman joined the FBI as a Special Agent in 1988 and was assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division. As a result of specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, he served as the FBI’s investigative expert in this field. During his 20 year career with the FBI he recovered more that $225 million worth of stolen art and cultural property resulting in the prosecution and conviction of numerous individuals. In 2005, he was instrumental in the creation of the FBI’s rapid deployment Art Crime Team. He was named as the ACT’s Senior Investigator and instructed the team members in how to conduct cultural property investigations. He has represented the United States around the world conducting investigations and instructing international police and museums in investigation, recovery and security techniques.
Some of his investigative highlights include:
•Theft at Pennsbury Manor, the historical home of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. First prosecution and convictions under the federal Theft of Major Artwork Statute. Recovery: More than 30 historical items valued at more that $100,000.
•Theft of one of the original 14 copies of the Bill of Rights stolen by a Union Soldier in 1865 Recovery: Valued at $30 million.
•Theft of numerous paintings at a private estate in Madrid, Spain. Recovery: Included 17 paintings including two by Francisco Goya valued at $50 Million.
Special Agent Wittman served as a member of the Department of State’s Cultural Antiquities Task Force based in Washington, D.C. He has sought to educate others in the cultural property protection community in techniques on how to avoid becoming a victim of theft or fraud and the importance of prompt reporting. He has been the FBI spokesperson for art theft matters nationally and represented the United States at numerous international conferences regarding cultural property protection.
He was awarded the “Peruvian Order of Merit for Distinguished Service” by the President of Peru, “Outstanding Contributions in Law Enforcement Award,” presented by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the “White Cross of Law Enforcement Merit Medal” by the Spanish National Police, and the “Robert Burke Memorial Award for Excellence in Cultural Property Protection” by the Smithsonian Institution at the National Conference on Cultural Property Protection.