A Cuban streetscape.


NEH funds UD art conservators to observe practices at Cuba's museums, archives, libraries


3:55 p.m., April 21, 2016--President Barack Obama made history by visiting Cuba last month. This week, a group of U.S. government cultural leaders and artists including Dave Matthews, Kal Penn, Smokey Robinson, Usher and Alfre Woodard are visiting the country. And soon, a University of Delaware delegation will head there with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). 

NEH, a federal grantmaking agency, announced Thursday in Cuba that it will provide a grant to a group of UD art conservators to visit Cuba to learn about preservation challenges and methods.

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The $30,000 grant will go to UD’s Department of Art Conservation, which NEH calls “one of the leading conservation programs in the United States.” The funding will support a delegation of students and professors who will visit Cuba to have a cultural exchange with their Cuban counterparts about conservation methods and practices.

Debra Hess Norris, Unidel Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts and chair of the Department of Art Conservation, and Jocelyn Alcantara-Garcia, assistant professor of art conservation, will be joined by graduate students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), a master’s-level program jointly sponsored by the UD and Winterthur Museum.  

The group will talk with their Cuban counterparts about their preservation challenges and methods, and see Cuban collections and visit museums, libraries, and archives.

NEH Chairman William D. Adams was a member of the U.S. government cultural mission to Cuba. He visited cultural sites and met with Cuban officials and cultural leaders to begin a new U.S.-Cuba cultural exchange.

NEH supports preservation and conservation projects as part of its grantmaking in the humanities to help ensure that materials that can illuminate history and culture are available for future generations. Since the agency’s founding in 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded 80 grants totaling $2.5 million to scholars, educators, and filmmakers who make Cuba the focus of their work.

“As I’ve visited Cuban museums and talked with scholars and curators this week, it’s clear to me that we have much to learn from the ways in which museum professionals in Cuba approach the important work of collecting and preserving Cuban culture and history,” Adams said. “I am honored that the National Endowment for the Humanities is prepared to provide a grant to this distinguished group of art conservation professionals and students from the United States to visit Cuba to observe conservation practices concerning photographs, manuscripts, and other collections. This trip will offer important insights and lessons that will enhance and broaden American conservation practices.” 

Norris has visited cultural institutions all over the world, but has never had the opportunity to go to Cuba. “With this support from NEH, my colleagues and I hope to learn from our Cuban counterparts about conservation challenges that arise from the warm climate and other issues that affect the preservation of their cultural heritage,” she said. 

The Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation began in 1974; graduating students have trained and worked as curators and directors for museums, historic sites, and other cultural organizations. 

Graduates of the program have assisted with the preservation of notable treasures such as the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Dead Sea Scrolls, decorative murals in the United States Capitol and at Radio City Music Hall, the world’s first photograph, and works of art by artists ranging from Rembrandt to Picasso and Andy Warhol.

UD and Winterthur program officials will work with their Cuban counterparts to plan the trip details, including the date and itinerary.

“We are enormously proud to be a part of this historic potential opportunity for our students to learn about conservation in Cuba,” said David Roselle, director of the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library and UD president emeritus. 

Photos by Colette Gaiter

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