The Smithsonian is leading a team of cultural organizations to help the Haitian government assess, recover and restore Haiti’s cultural materials damaged by the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake. A building in Port-au-Prince that once housed the United Nations Development Programme has been leased by the Smithsonian. The 7,500-square-foot, three-story building will serve as a temporary conservation site where objects retrieved from the rubble can be assessed, conserved and stored. It will also be the training center for Haitians who will take over the conservation effort in the future. Through this project, the Smithsonian is currently training 25 students in cultural conservation from August 23 to September 10.
Haiti’s Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Haitian President’s Commission for Reconstruction are leading the cultural recovery effort for Haiti.
The Smithsonian Institution-Haiti Cultural Recovery Project is conducted in partnership with the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities with assistance from several other federal agencies—the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project is also supported by contributions from the Broadway League, the international trade association for Broadway and the Broadway community.
The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of cultural property affected by conflict or natural disasters, is involved in the project as is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Local Haitian cultural organizations and a number of international organizations will also be involved in the effort.
“The highest priority of the Haitian government and the international humanitarian communities has rightly been to save lives and provide food, water, medical care and shelter,” said Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian. “However, Haiti’s rich culture, which goes back five centuries, is also in danger and we have the expertise to help preserve that heritage.”
The long-term goal, according to Kurin, is to “rescue, recover and help restore Haitian artwork, artifacts and archives damaged by the earthquake.”
Since the formation of the project, Smithsonian representatives and a conservator from the Smithsonian American Art Museum spent four days in Port-au-Prince checking the leased building that will be used for conservation in the coming months. Conservators from the American Institute for Conservation and the president of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield joined them.
The artifacts recovered and eventually conserved may include building features such as stained glass and historic murals as well as paper documents, photographs, and sculptures and some of the 9,000 paintings from the Nader Museum, now in ruins from the quake.