A man in military uniform wearing a blue UN helmet stands with two women in yellow hardhats holding a metal sculpture
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HAITI: 2010 Haiti Earthquake

The catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed more than 200,000 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 many had been stored in poor conditions and were still under the rubble.

The Smithsonian’s contemporary international efforts to preserve cultural heritage began during the aftermath of this devastating earthquake. The Smithsonian partnered with multiple organizations to create the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project (HCRP). Led by Dr. Richard Kurin, then Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, HCRP partners included the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Haitian Ministry of Culture, the American Institute for Conservation Cultural Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT), the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, and many others.

Through these cooperative efforts, the project stabilized and rehoused more than 30,000 objects, including artifacts, paintings, sculptures, architectural fragments, and historical documents, and trained more than 150 Haitian cultural heritage professionals in disaster risk management and collections conservation.

Additional capacity building projects improved collections care and storage at Haitian museums, archives, and libraries and established the Cultural Conservation Center at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince. Awareness raising activities included museum exhibitions at the Smithsonian and the Clinton Presidential Library, public programs and lectures, a television documentary on the Smithsonian Channel, and a book that has become a standard resource for students of disaster response, Saving Haiti’s Heritage.

Image: Conservators recover metalwork sculpture with the aid of UN peacekeepers at the Centre d'Art. Credit: Stephanie Hornbeck