Haiti Cultural Recovery Project

Haiti Cultural Recovery Project - Update

A television program about the Haiti Cultural Recovery project will air on the Smithsonian Channel in December 2012.

The project, operating out of the former U.N. complex in Port-au-Prince for 18 months, deployed several dozen conservators from the Smithsonian and many other organizations across the U.S. with support from the U.S. Department of State/USAID, IMLS, NEA, NEH, the Broadway League, Hillman Foundation et al. to save more than 35,000 paintings, sculptures, artifacts, rare books and historical documents from Haiti's key cultural institutions. The project also built storage facilities at the Haitian National Museum, National Archives, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Centre d'Art, Lehmann Collection, aided other collections and trained more than 150 Haitians in conservation and collection management.

As the needs are still great, the project continues, albeit increasingly in Haitian hands as appropriate. The Smithsonian concluded an agreement to transfer management to ISPAN, the Haitian government's cultural preservation agency. The Haitian government granted land and a termite-ridden terribly damaged structure—the Maison du Tourisme—near the Presidential Palace to the project.

With Smithsonian, USAID, and Stiller Foundation support we recently demolished that building, after saving the important architectural features, and, under the leadership of architect and project leader Olsen Jean Julien and his team, are constructing a new building with conservation labs, storage, and training space. It should be completed in four or five months, and allow Haitians to preserve their heritage full time with the needed facilities.

We also continue training Haitians. Last month, two of the senior Haitian conservators Jean Menard Derenoncourt and Franck Louissant completed a month-long apprenticeship at Yale's Center for British Art under the leadership of its chief conservator Mark Aronson, who had voluntarily served for several weeks in Haiti. Amazingly, the Haitians worked on restoring 15 paintings of key Haitian leaders that had been made in the 1870s and sent from Haiti to the U.S. for display at popular expositions. The paintings were transferred to the Smithsonian in the late 19th century and then to Yale in the 1960s. We are now working with Yale on continued training for other Haitian conservators—to be combined with training at the Smithsonian and other institutions.

Another dozen Haitian conservators continue to service collections at Haitian cultural organizations in accord with a plan worked out with the Smithsonian and project conservators Stephanie Hornbeck and Viviana Dominguez. More classes and workshops will resume once the new facility is completed.

The Smithsonian is also consulting with Haitian authorities on the preservation of the Citadel, a world heritage site that was badly neglected and needs major conservation work. The World Bank is currently considering a $40 million grant for the project.

Finally, as a direct result of the Haiti project, the Smithsonian has created a federally supported position for dealing with cultural recovery projects in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. Corrine Wegener, a former U.S. Army colonel and Minneapolis Institute of the Arts curator who helped inspire and set-up the Haiti project has been hired for the position. This will address one of the concerns expressed at PCAH discussions, assuring that the U.S. has a means of mobilizing governmental and non-governmental support for cultural recovery efforts in a time of need. It will do our nation well.