Less than a month after Barack Obama became the first serving US president to set foot in Cuba in 88 years, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced plans to send a group of US conservators, students and graduates from the University of Delaware to Cuba to learn about the preservation challenges faced there, such as high humidity, mould growth and termite infestation. Although the details are still being finalised, the group hopes to make the journey sometime this year.
The mission will primarily focus on photographic collections in Cuba’s libraries, archives, museums and historic houses. “Photographs, while often vulnerable, connect cultures and humanity and are valued worldwide,” says Debra Hess Norris, the director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. “Cuba has a thriving contemporary art scene that is richly connected to photography so these collections seemed like a great place to focus our efforts.”
Nadina Gardner, the director of the NEH’s preservation and access division, says the federal organisation hopes this will be the beginning of future initiatives in Cuba. Hess Norris agrees, saying she would like the trip to be the “first phase of many opportunities for exchange and creative problem solving”. She applauds the NEH for its sustained investment in preventative conservation and collections care, through research and education initiatives. “It’s a federal agency that we can continue to rely on,” Hess Norris says. In April, NEH chairman William Adams and the sectretary of the Smithsonian Institution, David Skorton, visited Cuba as part of a US government-backed cultural mission.