Smithsonian Institution

Saving Vanishing Heritage: Building Hubs to Protect Culture under Threat

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Project Summary

“The dead are dead, we know that. But if you don’t have the memory of the past, the rest of us can’t continue living,” the inspiring statement of Haitian sculptor, Patrick Vilaire to the New York Times, on the vital role of heritage in Haiti’s recovery after the 2010 earthquake. With the destruction of heritage, communities lose shared identity, knowledge, and even livelihoods. The frequency of extreme natural events, accidents, and armed conflict has placed the world’s treasures at greater risk than ever, especially for places with fewer resources. This Smithsonian – Prince Claus Fund collaboration recognizes that the quick rescue action needed must come from the people who live there and are familiar with what the community feels is important. Together with regional cultural first aid hubs, we will unite to save cultural diversity, instilling in local stewards the skills and knowledge to save their own heritage.

Problem Statement

Cultural heritage is the thread that ties our global mosaic together. We feel loss when we see a historic building toppled by an earthquake, a painting damaged after a hurricane, or a museum intentionally destroyed. In an increasingly divided world, cultural heritage unites people. Today, irreplaceable collections, sites, and traditions face unprecedented hazards. Not since World War II has heritage been at such risk of destruction from armed conflict. Beyond this, extreme events, climate change, and accidents render people and their histories increasingly vulnerable. It is not a renewable commodity, and when it is gone, communities lose resources for economic development, tourism, and commerce and our shared identity, knowledge and creativity.The capacity of existing organizations worldwide to prepare for and respond to threats against cultural heritage is inadequate, leaving communities with little assistance to protect the things most important to them. Help for on-site rescue is a disconnected series of underfunded, limited, and often reactive projects. Successive populations face similar challenges, with no access to lessons learned from previous crises. Field efforts are an uneven mix of post-disaster response and pre-emergency training, and often do not include techniques and methods suited for different capacity levels. Although humanitarian organizations are considering how to incorporate cultural heritage into emergency response, the way forward is not clear. It is like trying to treat an accident victim, without the necessary mobility, people, equipment, and skills. We propose to create hubs as ambulances for heritage, helping whole regions.

Solution Overview

We will disseminate proven methodologies for cultural rescue worldwide through regional “hubs” by:•Education and Training: Establishing five new regional cultural emergency hubs in known existing organizations and bolstering the work of five mentor hubs, we will also draw expertise from our robust cultural first aiders network to offer training and technical assistance. •Mentoring: Helping create solutions at capacity so while others may develop complex projects dependent on external financing and frameworks, the hubs will adapt training programs, interventions, and disaster planning to local contexts, with access to knowledge from the mentor hubs. •Field Knowledge: Facilitating the research of local scholars on techniques and best practices will enable further development of cultural first aid practices and innovative approaches to share worldwide.We will measure progress by: -Coordinated efforts to safeguard heritage-Increase in the number of qualified heritage rescuers-Number of sites and objects saved -Original research on practice -Integration of heritage rescue in crisis response plans and policyIn five years, new hubs will manage cultural emergencies in their own region and deploy knowledgeable experts to safeguard what is important to local people. Cultural relief will become more independent from external drivers, preserving sites of local importance and a world narrative that illustrates humanity in all its variety.The project beneficiaries:Cultural StewardsEmergency Managers The Military – learning about their responsibility to heritage under the 1954 Hague ConventionLocal ResearchersCommunities Other Project Staff Working Locally - using hubs to understand regional needs

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Project Funders

  • International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas 2019
  • Bank of America 2018 - 2021
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 2017 - 2020

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