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Getty Conservation Institute Provides Post-Earthquake Emergency Assistance as Part of El Salvadoran Partnership

June 7, 2001

Los Angeles--This month, the Getty Conservation Institute, in collaboration with El Salvador's National Council for Culture and Art (CONCULTURA), has sent a team to El Salvador to provide emergency assistance in assessing and stabilizing historic buildings damaged by major earthquakes in January and February, 2001. This special initiative is part of an ongoing partnership that was launched three years ago to plan for the preservation of the archaeological site of Joya de Cerén and assist El Salvador in safeguarding its Maya cultural heritage.

Beginning June 10, the conservation team, which includes Getty and CONCULTURA representatives, will visit Joya de Cerén and historic sites in the El Salvadoran cities of Santa Tecla, San Vicente, and Izalco. Sites in these cities were identified in early March when Getty and local officials toured heavily damaged areas to select examples of repairable structures including churches and colonial buildings. The initiative to provide emergency assistance will be led by Julio Vargas and Daniel Torrealva, two structural engineers who are professors in the engineering department of the Catholic University of Peru. Both have been heavily involved in post-earthquake relief work throughout Central and South America. They will be joined by two Getty Conservation Institute staff members who are also preservation architects--Mary Hardy, senior project specialist; and Francois LeBlanc, head of field projects.

Timothy Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute, commented, "We were able to quickly mobilize after the earthquakes hit and provide help to El Salvador because of the established collaboration between the Getty and our partners at the National Council for Culture and Art. Long-term international partnerships that can serve as models for other projects and help protect the world's diverse cultural heritage are a key part of the Getty Conservation Institute's mission."

The conservation team will spend two weeks conducting a seminar and visiting the historic sites. A major goal of the initiative is to help train a network of professionals within El Salvador to stabilize significant structures before future earthquakes strike. Part of the process will be the construction of rain protection and emergency temporary shoring before the onslaught of the rainy season. The team will also make recommendations for additional repairs. These measures will help minimize further damage from ongoing aftershocks and allow CONCULTURA time to thoughtfully assess conditions, consider long-term conservation options, and arrange funding for permanent repairs. The training session and stabilization process will be videotaped for use as a teaching tool.

The buildings selected for intervention are all considered El Salvadoran national monuments. These sites include the unique vaulted masonry church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, constructed around 1762 in San Vicente. This is one of the few existing examples of Baroque architecture in El Salvador. In Izalco, the Casa de la Cultura is a colonial-era, one-story courtyard house located in the heart of this historic town. The house now belongs to the municipality and is used for public events. In Santa Tecla, the team will work on a church built in a style developed to withstand earthquakes without total collapse; constructed with a wood frame, its adobe or earthen facades, while not collapsing, were significantly damaged. This repairable structure provides a good model for other buildings needing similar work.

The team will also visit the archaeological site of Joya de Cerén, which is the focus of the existing Getty/CONCULTURA conservation partnership. The site appears to have been only slightly damaged by the recent earthquakes, but will be assessed for further needed repairs. The project at the site is part of the Getty Conservation Institute's Mayan Initiative, which addresses important and complementary issues regarding the conservation of cultural resources within the Mayan region. The Initiative is also developing a conservation plan for a hieroglyphic stairway at the site of Copán in Honduras.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The Getty Conservation Institute works internationally to advance conservation practice in the visual arts-broadly interpreted to include objects, collections, architecture, and sites. The Institute serves the conservation community through scientific research, education and training, model field projects, and the dissemination of the results of both its own work and the work of others in the field. In all its endeavors, the GCI focuses on the creation and delivery of knowledge that will benefit the professionals and organizations responsible for the conservation of the world's cultural heritage. To learn more, subscribe to the GCI's E-Bulletin by visiting http://www.getty.edu/subscribe/gci_bulletin/.