Heritage Damage in Haiti - a Provisional Survey (Th. Schuler)

Heritage Damage in Haiti - a Provisional Survey (by Thomas Schuler)


ICOM Secretariat and ICOM Disaster Relief Task Force (DRTF) have immediately reacted to the Haiti earthquake and were extremely busy in seeking direct or indirect information about museums in Haiti. As every other NGO, ICOM faced enormous difficulties in getting reliable information directly from Haiti. Particular helpful was the nearby ICOM National Committee of the Dominican Republic and the Museum Association of the Caribbean (MAC).

DRTF has compiled a comprehensive list of museums in the earthquake region: 3 museums open to the public, 6 museum projects with valuable collections and 4 other museum projects. DRTF also collected contact data from relevant NGO`s and analysed satellite pictures. It edited each day internal papers and communicated the news within the BLUE SHIELD network. Due to the collapse of communication structure in Haiti, these preliminary reports ("watch list") are quite insufficient and not suitable for wide circulation.

Meanwhile ICOM has direct contact to some museums colleagues in Haiti, and it has published last Friday a preliminary "Status Report" (to be updated), where you may read details about museum colleagues, museum buildings and collections: http://icom.museum/icbs-press/100121_haiti_damages_statement_UK.pdf


On January 16th, UNOSAT has published a satellite analysis of 110 major public buildings in Port-au-Prince - more than half of them are destroyed or damaged!

On January 24th, "The New York Times" published an article by Marc Lacey on "Cultural Riches Turn to Rubble in Haiti Quake".

According to my personal impressions and on the base of still very limited information, I would try to summarize:

1) Extremely heavy damage has been done to monuments, to famous buildings of the capital as well as to protected heritage quarters (e.G in Jacmel).

2) Many libraries of schools, colleges and universities have been collapsed.
Four libraries are well known for their collections of manuscipts and rare books:
Saint Martial Library (with precious manuscripts from 17th to 19th cent.) has been destroyed; the National Library, the Library of the State University and the Gonzague Library (Frère de Saint-Louis de Gonzague / F.I.C.) did not collapse, but buildings are in an unstable condition.
The heritage loss will fully depend on our effort to salvage these collections as soon as possible.

3) The main building of the National Archive seems to be okay, but we have no information on its second building. The problem is that many very valuable records are still kept in the Ministries and other public buildings. Many of them collapsed and the Government hurries to clear the sites. Archivists complain that they have no chance to safe the files from the debris.

4) Gladly, museum collections and buildings were less affected. (See the mentioned ICOM report and the following links.) But several galleries were severely damaged, e.g. the "Centre d'Art Haitien" or the "Fondation Culture et Creation et Fondation Tiga".

Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, Port au Prince

Musée d'art haïtien, Port au Prince

[Musée Vaudou] Collection Marianne Lehmann, Pétion-Ville Interview that Marianne Lehmann gave for Swiss TV on 17 January, 2010:


What is most needed for Haiti heritage in general?
Taking most seriously the damage done to heritage
- by local government
- by security forces of all nations
- by the international heritage community.
And we have to be quick: "Our principal enemy will be the rain from now" (Season February / March)

What is most needed for Haiti museums, archives and libraries?
Thanks to solid brick structure of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only few of these buildings sheltering invaluable heritage collapsed. But many of them are so weakened that heritage experts may not enter now. National Library director Françoise Beaulieu Thybille said that the Haitian government choose two (!) architects to evaluate the damage to the public building. Cultural building will come after hospital etc. Our colleagues in Haiti stress that they need foreign experts of building static which are able to assess structural damage as well as to supervise provisional consolidation work (that enables professional evacuation of collections) and to avoid unnecessary demolition. Additional security measures are a common need as well, because the ordinary ones (building structures, electronic devices, security personnel) are disrupted or waekend.

What is most needed for Haiti monuments?
Experts are very concerned about the "cleaning" of the streets form debris. Around the monuments this will cause a second (and avoidable) wave of destruction, and it will make a professional reconstruction impossible. This is particularly important in the severely struck port town Jacmel, famous for its vernacular architecture. As a senior ICOMOS official pointed out: Stop the mantra of "Everything is destroyed", and concentrate on saving the damaged monuments from cleaning and demolition.


On the initiative of ICOM Haiti, a crisis team ("Patrimoine en Danger") has been established. Lewis A. Clormeus, a young functionary of Ministry of Culture, is in charge ("secretariat executif"). This team will co-ordinate all support activities, in order to avoid double action and to make sure that the heritage objects will be saved from debris before heavy engines will start working. A list of identified sites has been compiled. They do not restrict themselves to museums or major heritage sites, because in Haiti there are many valuable records or collections in public buildings (like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) or in private property (collectors). A first action takes place at the "Direction Generale des Archives Nationales d'Haiti".

This week ICOM secretariat (contact: Stanislas Tarnowski) and DRTF (contact: Thomas Schuler) will decide on the quickest and most efficient way to give first assistance - by a team of experts (alone or with partners) and/or by money (DRFM fund, call for donations).

ICA (contact: Christophe Jacobs) and IFLA (contact: Danielle Mincio) are very active as well in preparing assistance through their secretariat, their committees and their members. Yesterday ICA published an important second statement:

ICOMOS has published a newsletter (E-News #53, not yet on the web site) describing the planned activities. The President of ICOMOS has appointed an "ICOMOS Haiti Heritage Recovery Steering Committee" composed of eminent international experts in the field of heritage rescue and recovery and on Haitian heritage. Chair: Dinu Bumbaru, the former Secretary-General of ICOMOS.

UNESCO is planning a reconnaissance mission going to Haiti. Its Haitian offices are OK (the buildings, not all their local staff are accounted for). They also will liaise with the army and Interpol to try to have protection of cultural sites to avoid looting. They consider contacting the UN Security Council to call for international action on the cultural heritage issue.


This umbrella organisation (for archives, libraries, monuments and museums) was very active and created - the first time after a disaster! - web 2.0 tools for heritage assistance.

1) ANCBS acted from the beginning as co-ordinator between ICA, IFLA, ICOMOS and ICOM.

2) ICBS published a resolution: http://ancbs.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=103:statement-earthquake-haiti2010&catid=10:statements&Itemid=20

3) ANCBS established a special website in English, French and Spanish, where volunteers may apply online: "Haiti 2010 Blue Shield Solidarity". http://haiti2010.blueshield-international.org
More than 180 volunteers have already joined! This initiative is based on the great success last year, when two BLUE SHIELD teams assisted the collapsed Cologne City Archive; more than 100 international voluteers took part at the two "international weeks".

4) This website is accompanied by the "Haiti 2010 Blue Shield Solidarity" group on Facebook with more than 650 members. This is the best information source for Haiti heritage damage:

5) On Twitter you will find "Blueshieldcoop": http://twitter.com/blueshieldcoop.
They are not very active now, but this will change - as the Cologne archive case proved - as soon as the first foreign teams will be working in Haiti

H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies
E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu
WWW: http://www.h-museum.net


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