Institute helps museums preserve Iraq's heritage
ON THE GREEN | After years of war and isolation, when many museums were looted or closed, Iraq is experiencing a blossoming of renovated museums and renewed archaeological excavations at ancient sites.
A key to this renewal is the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH), in which UD is a major partner. At recent graduation ceremonies at the institute in Erbil, Iraq, 18 museum professionals proudly stepped forward to receive University of Delaware certificates from Abdullah Korsheed, director, and Jessica S. Johnson, academic director. These Iraqi students, including both introductory and advanced classes, work for museums and antiquities departments throughout the country.
The two-year program, managed by UD’s Institute for Global Studies, gives museum professionals the opportunity to learn new ways to preserve the rich history and archaeology of Iraq. When they return home, they will help save such artifacts as carved stone sculptures that decorated the palaces of Assyrian kings, and pottery fragments that archaeologists study to understand the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia.
At the IICAH, the University sponsors conservation programs for the staff members who care for these important artifacts.
The programs are funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center, the Getty Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently commended the success of IICAH in a letter that also congratulated the graduates, saying, “Their achievement symbolizes the future of Iraq as a diverse and pluralistic nation sharing common values and born of a singular history.”
The Collections Care and Conservation Program is one of three programs at IICAH, which also offers Architectural and Site Conservation and Archaeological Site Preservation programs. The three programs teach different facets of cultural heritage preservation and are designed to meet Iraqi needs while maintaining international standards.
With academic guidance from partners at UD, Winterthur Museum, Walters Art Museum, University of Arizona, the Getty Conservation Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, 65 students have completed IICAH Collections Care and Conservation courses since 2009.
Lois Olcott Price, director of conservation at Winterthur and an adjunct faculty member in the UD Department of Art Conservation, chairs the IICAH Advisory Council comprising Iraqi and international experts who guide the academic programs.
After recent visits with IICAH students, Price calls them “bright, curious, engaged, open to change and clearly committed to gaining as much as possible from their time at the institute.”
“I believe they gain far more than conservation information because they are exposed to new ways of communicating, solving problems, working with diverse colleagues and interacting with the larger conservation world,” she says. “They passionately want to return to their home institutions and make a difference.”
The first students graduated from the program in 2009 after taking classes held in a local house. Since then, thanks to the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, students now study and stay in a renovated building with fully equipped laboratories in the center of Erbil, close to the ancient citadel.
“The University of Delaware, in partnership with Winterthur Museum, has unique access to the resources that make this effort so successful—a great University committed to international engagement and an internationally recognized art conservation department,” Price says. “I’m not sure the Iraqi Institute could have been conceived and nurtured in any other environment; UD is truly making a difference. It matters now, and it will matter for generations to come in
Iraq and in the U.S.”