Saving Haiti's Heritage: Cultural Recovery after the Earthquake

Richard Kurin

May 1, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E. 60th St.
Room 289B

Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Institution's Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture

From Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to the looting of the Iraqi museum and the current destruction in Mali, natural disasters, climate change, war, looting, and civil unrest can threaten the survival of cultural treasures in the U.S. and around the world. In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Smithsonian led an international coalition of organizations to care for damaged collections by establishing a Cultural Recovery Center in Port-au-Prince. The Smithsonian quickly mobilized scores of conservators, and the necessary support to save more than 35,000 items—from paintings and historic murals to sculptures and rare documents, trained 150 Haitians to care for their own collections, and generated respect for America in that country and around the world. The presentation describes how, and points to Smithsonian efforts to ensure adequate U.S. responses to emerging and future cultural crises at home and abroad.

Richard Kurin is the Smithsonian Institution's Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its national museums and cultural programs. Kurin earned his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, and taught at The Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of several books, and honored by the International Council of Museums and Harvard University's Peabody Museum, he served on the U.S. Commission for UNESCO, and helped UNESCO draft an international treaty on safeguarding the world's living cultural heritage now ratified by more than 130 nations. Kurin first worked for the Smithsonian in 1976 for the Bicentennial of the United States, and for decades directed the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage responsible for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and national celebration programs on the Mall and in the museums. He represents the Smithsonian on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the White House Historical Association and other boards, and is currently in the last stage of writing a book The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects to be published by Penguin in the fall.