One year on and Haiti still lies in ruins
Political unrest and cholera outbreaks force conservators to suspend work
By Marisa Mazria Katz. News, Issue 220, January 2011
Published online: 12 January 2011
new york. The reconstruction of Haiti’s badly damaged art and cultural heritage institutions was suspended this December in the wake of violent protests that ripped through capital Port-au-Prince. The turmoil was sparked by claims that the November presidential and legislative elections were riddled with fraud. Run-off elections are scheduled for 16 January.
“There are a lot of difficulties to overcome working in Haiti right now between the ongoing cholera epidemic and the current unrest associated with the presidential election,” said Corine Wegener, curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and president of the United States Committee of the Blue Shield, an organisation that responds to global heritage disasters. Following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in January 2010, Wegener convened a meeting with several organisations, including the Smithsonian, to devise a strategy for reconstructing the country’s devastated cultural institutions.
In the midst of the chaos, many working on conservation projects were on lockdown in their homes and hotel rooms. “Cars cannot go out unless it’s an exceptional situation,” said Lorraine Mangones, executive director of Fokal (La Fondation Connaissance et Liberté/Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète), speaking by phone to The Art Newspaper. “What we’re doing has been interrupted. The country is paralysed right now.”
One of Mangones’s duties is to oversee the restoration efforts of the country’s historic, turn-of-the-century gingerbread houses, some of which survived the earthquake, in Port-au-Prince’s Bois Verna neighbourhood. Despite early progress, Mangones remains concerned about the elections and their potential effects. “I am not sure how long it will take to find a solution,” she said.
The Smithsonian—along with Wegener, the Blue Shield committee and volunteer conservators from the American Institute for Conservation—has been at the forefront of Haiti’s cultural heritage rehabilitation. In May 2010, the Smithsonian and the government of Haiti inaugurated the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project, in a 7,600-sq. ft, three-storey centre, that conserves and stores works from destroyed cultural institutions like Port-au-Prince’s Centre d’Art, the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Nader Museum (The Art Newspaper, July-August 2010, p22).
The project’s chief conservator, Stephanie Hornbeck, said the overarching goal is to train locals so that come the US team’s scheduled departure date in November, a Haitian-run conservation programme will be fully operational. The conservators were hoping to return to work as we went to press.
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