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Smithsonian DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY for COLLECTIONS and INTERDISCIPLINARY SUPPORT
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Cultural Rescue Initiative

Explore more at: Cultural Rescue Initiative

For decades, the Smithsonian has been a resource for the public looking to preserve cultural artifacts in time of disaster. More recently, the Smithsonian has been a critical world leader in the struggle to protect cultures in the face of natural calamities or war. Working with the Museum Conservation Institute, the Smithsonian sends researchers and conservationists into the field to help those in need learn how to save their cultural heritage.

Haiti

The catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed more than 250,000 people, left over 1.5 million homeless and destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure. It also devastated Haiti’s rich cultural heritage. Historic buildings, museums, libraries, archives, galleries, churches, theaters, artists' workshops and marketplaces were damaged and ruined. Thanks to many brave and concerned Haitians, some cultural collections were saved, but most were stored in poor conditions and many are still under the rubble. The Haitian government joined with the Smithsonian and international organizations for the Cultural Recovery Project.

The Project rescued, safeguarded and preserved Haiti’s important collections of art, artifacts, museum objects, architectural features, documents, film, photographs and video and sound recordings. The Cultural Recovery Center in Bourdon was equipped with labs and experts to help stabilize and restore art, objects, paper and other media. Some experts pulled cultural materials from the rubble; others helped train Haitians in conservation work.

Syria

In addition to the high toll that Syria’s four-year-old civil war has had on its people and infrastructure, Syria’s cultural heritage has been and continues to be destroyed at an unprecedented rate. World Heritage sites, like the historic city of Aleppo and Krak des Chevaliers, as well as medieval Christian cemeteries and numerous archaeological sites and museums, have been subjected to extensive raiding and looting.

In an effort to help stem the loss of the region’s significant cultural heritage, Penn Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force, have come together to offer assistance for museum curators, heritage experts, and civilians working to protect cultural heritage inside Syria. A three-day training program, “Emergency Care for Syrian Museum Collections,” focusing on safeguarding high risk collections, was completed in late June, 2014; additional training programs are being planned, pending funding.

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