By Jane Siena Talley
Responding to the urgent need for sustainable solutions to protect cultural heritage in places undergoing radical change, the government of the Netherlands has joined the Getty Conservation Institute in partnerships in St. Petersburg, Russia, to initiate programs in cultural heritage conservation.
he latest partnership was announced by the Dutch state secretary for culture, Aad Nuis, on December 4, 1997, at the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation in the historic Lavalle Palace, also home to the Russian State Historical Archives. Secretary Nuis explained that the Netherlands will establish new communications programs at the Center to promote international exchanges and open access to information. This unique and unprecedented information resource is named the Nicolaas Witsen Information Facility in honor of the distinguished 17th-century Dutch scholar and Amsterdam mayor who forged strong and lasting ties between Russia and the Netherlands.
The partnership funds several new cultural initiatives: the first and exclusive office in Russia of the London-based Art Loss Register; a specialized preservation library of foreign and Russian reference sources; and an electronic communications system linking the Center and its constituent organizations to other international databases and libraries worldwide. The Dutch ambassador to Russia, de Vos van Steenwijk, noted that the partnership is supported by both the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of an overall initiative to commemorate over three centuries of collaboration between the Netherlands and Russia.
The governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir A. Yakovlev, participated in the signing ceremony to commemorate the announcement. He stated that "the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation is the project for the 21st century—it will help us develop this city in a way that is respectful of its historic and cultural legacy. We are extremely proud to receive support for this program from Secretary Nuis, Ambassador de Vos van Steenwijk, and our many friends in the Netherlands."
Governor Yakovlev was joined by his deputy governor for culture, Professor Vladimir P. Yakovlev, who underscored the significance of the choice of St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia, as the location of the International Center for Preservation. He explained that the Center grew out of a partnership between the city, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The new partnership with the Dutch strengthens the Center by providing funds to establish its Internet Web site and international databases.
The Center has been designated by the governor as a coordinating institution for St. Petersburg 2003—a celebration of the city's 300th birthday year.
A unique feature of the Nicolaas Witsen Information Facility is the Art Loss Register, an international computerized database of stolen and missing works of art, manuscripts, books, antiques, and other cultural treasures (See Fighting the Theft of Art). Richard Crewdson, a board member of the Art Loss Register, observed that "the Register helps law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, cultural institutions, and private individuals identify and recover stolen works. . . . We expect to have a strong impact on the recovery of missing art from institutions and collections in Russia and throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States." The St. Petersburg International Center will work closely with cultural institutions throughout Russia and with the Register's offices in London, New York, Perth, and Düsseldorf, to assist Interpol-Moscow and other international law enforcement agencies to document and recover missing works of art. The placement of the Art Loss Register at the St. Petersburg International Center has been the result of collaboration between experts involved in the Center's security programs and James Emson, managing director of the Art Loss Register. The Center's security programs are carried out under the guidance of Wilbur Faulk, Getty Trust security director, and Oleg Boev, Hermitage Museum security director.
The Getty Conservation Institute has been the principal foreign partner in the Center's development. According to GCI Director Miguel Angel Corzo, "It is our objective at the Getty to build strong and sustainable alliances for the cultural heritage. As our Russian and Dutch partners understand so well, we must pool our resources if we are to have any hope of making serious progress in protecting our world heritage."
This is the second commitment made to the Center by the Dutch. In June 1997, the Dutch government established the Peter the Great Trust Fund to support educational programs in conservation, also in partnership with the GCI. The Center's November 1997 "Art in Transit" seminar was organized with support from the Trust Fund, the GCI, and the Hermitage/UNESCO/Dutch Fund in Trust. The seminar was cochaired by M. Kirby Talley, executive counselor to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, the Netherlands; and by Ross Merrill, chief of conservation, and Mervin Richard, deputy chief of conservation, both of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The seminar covered state-of-the-art methods of packing and shipping works of art which are designed to ensure conservation and protection of objects. Participating were staff from the Hermitage Museum, the Russian State Museum, Peterhof, Tsarkoe Selo, Pavlovsk, Gatchina, the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Central Naval Museum, the Museum of Artillery, the Museum of the History of Religion, the Zoological Museum, the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin State Museum, the State Historical Museum, the Russian National Library, the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian State Historical Archives, and the Hepry Packing Company. Didactic materials in English and Russian were provided by Mr. Merrill and Mr. Richard.
The Nicolaas Witsen Information Facility is expected to become operational in the coming months, after cables are laid and communications capabilities are assured. The Art Loss Register is slated for use during 1998. The Center's educational activities will continue in existing program areas, such as security, theft, collections management, and preventive conservation, and in new program areas, such as porcelain conservation, textile conservation, cultural heritage tourism management, and conservation science. A public lecture series begins in May 1998.
Jane Siena Talley is head of institutional relations for the GCI and president of the St. Petersburg International Center for Preservation.