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IMLS Podcast: Senior Conservator Says Haiti’s Paintings Can be Restored

Thursday, June 10, 2010


IMLS Press Contacts
Natasha Marstiller,
Mamie Bittner,

Washington, DC—The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announces release of a podcast interview with Susan Blakney, a senior painting conservator and founder of Westlake Conservators. She traveled to Haiti May 4-8 to assess the conservation needs of artwork damaged by the January earthquake. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Blakney and two other conservators visited a dozen museums, which she says have made great strides in retrieving and storing damaged artwork. She describes seeing 500 paintings that were stacked "in a pile like pancakes," awaiting conservation care. Haitians are anxious to save their paintings, which are one of their "national loves and largest exports," she said. However, the country does not have the materials it needs to conserve the "vivid, colorful, and thematic" artworks that are part of its social history, she says. Conservators will be needed for many years to help restore the country’s artwork and to train Haitian artists on conservation techniques. Blakney is certain that the paintings she assessed can be restored to exhibition standards.

Blakney was part of emergency conservation team sent to Haiti by the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) with support from IMLS. These efforts are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Haitian Cultural Recovery Project, which is also receiving support from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Broadway League. The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection of cultural property affected by conflict or natural disasters, is serving as the international coordinator of this conservation effort.

Conducting conservation assessments in disaster zones is nothing new to Blakney. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Blakney served as a cultural disaster responder on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, she conducted conservation assessments in Galveston, Texas. She was in the first class of conservators, collections managers, and museum personnel to participate in 2007 training for the AIC Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT), a rapid response team that can be mobilized to provide emergency conservation assistance to museums in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. IMLS funded the AIC to create the training program through a 2006 21st Century Museum Professionals grant.

To learn more about the Smithsonian-led project, please click here.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit