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Getty Conservation Institute Maya Initiative records, 1972-2016, undated

Getty Conservation Institute Maya Initiative records, 1972-2016, undated (bulk 1996-2016)

Administrative History

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust, a not-for-profit cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts. Established in 1985, the GCI's mission is to advance conservation practice in the visual arts, broadly interpreted to include objects, collections, architecture, and cultural heritage sites. Working internationally, it serves the conservation community through scientific research, education and training, model field projects, and the broad 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 dissemination of knowledge that will benefit the professionals and organizations responsible for the conservation of the world's cultural heritage.

Through field projects, the GCI works to advance conservation practice worldwide on a range of heritage places including buildings, archaeological sites, and urban environments, and to address problems of regional or international relevance. The field projects that the GCI develops and implements incorporate strong research, planning, and educational objectives. While field projects vary in emphasis, complexity, and scope, all are multidisciplinary and involve working with local partners to build knowledge, skills, and experience, and to ensure sustainability. Projects also adhere to a consistent methodology which includes documentation and recording, diagnostic research and assessment, the development and testing of conservation treatments and strategies, implementation, and, finally, dissemination and training. Field project teams consist of the GCI (and sometimes other Getty) staff, representatives of partner organizations, and external consultants. Team members come from a variety of disciplines and include archaeologists, conservators, curators, engineers, architects, art historians, biologists, geologists, chemists, city planners, surveyors, museum administrators, and site managers.

The Maya Initiative (1999-2008) is a GCI field project that sought to establish a heritage management plan for the Maya region. Initial discussions began with a meeting at the GCI in August 1997 with directors of national heritage conservation institutes from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize. Representatives of the World Bank, the International Development Bank, and the Mundo Maya organization were also present. The objectives of the Maya Initiative were to improve conservation practice in the region and to foster collaboration among the countries of the area through development of methodologies to address site management and conservation issues; transfer of knowledge to technicians and site managers; establishment of reference documents and training; dissemination and promotion of the results; and support for the development of local, national, and regional networks. After site visits and additional meetings held in Merida, Mexico (January 1998) and Antigua, Guatemala (April 1998), projects at two UNESCO World Heritage sites were selected for collaboration: development of a site management plan for earthen architecture at Joya de Cerén in El Salvador (1999-2002) and development of a conservation plan for the Hieroglyphic Stairway in Copán in Honduras (1999-2005). The El Salvador Earthquake Relief project was later initiated under the Maya Initiative in 2001.

Joya de Cerén, located to the northwest of the city of San Salvador, contains the well-preserved remains of a prehispanic Maya farming village buried by a volcanic eruption in the sixth century CE. The GCI worked with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y el Arte (CONCULTURA) of El Salvador to develop a management plan to address, through holistic measures, the complex natural and social conditions related to the conservation of the archaeological site. With a focus on sustainability and developing a model plan for other sites, working meetings were held with various interest groups to strengthen collaboration and to foster a sense of ownership and, in turn, a greater commitment to the conservation of Joya de Cerén. A condition assessment was carried out, which involved a detailed digital topographic survey of the site and architectural survey of each structure, environmental monitoring, biological analysis, and research on the history of interventions and conditions of the structures at the time of the site's excavation. The final management plan was completed in the summer of 2002 and presented publicly to local and national authorities and stakeholders and to the vice president of El Salvador by the GCI and CONCULTURA. The process of creating the management plan is detailed in the Getty publication, Conservation Management Planning: Putting Theory into Practice: The Case of Joya de Cerén, El Salvador, published in 2008.

The other major collaboration under the Maya Initiative was the GCI's partnership with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH) of Honduras to develop a long-term conservation strategy for the Hieroglyphic Stairway at the archaeological site of Copán, located in western Honduras. Built in eighth century CE, the Stairway measures 10 meters wide by 24 meters high and contains the longest Maya text carved on stone from ancient Mesoamerica. Its 63 steps are covered with over 1,000 intricately carved glyphs that recount the official history of Copán rulers. The Stairway was rediscovered and excavated in the late 1890s and reconstructed 1937-1940. Over the years, the stone surfaces have deteriorated, impacting the readability of the carved text. The project has thus focused on evaluating the conditions of the stones and identifying the causes and mechanisms of decay. Work on the project included a complete stereophotographic survey, a detailed condition survey, scientific analysis of stone and mortar samples and biological specimens from stone surfaces, environmental monitoring, and archival research. The findings, as well as proposals for conservation treatment, preventive measures, and maintenance strategies, were presented in a final project report, The Hieroglyphic Stairway of Copán, Honduras: Study Results and Conservation Proposals. The report was officially presented in July 2007 to the Minister of Culture and the public in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Presentations were also held in San Pedro Sula and Copán Ruinas.

The El Salvador Earthquake Relief project (2001-2002) was a minor component of the Maya Initiative, initiated with CONCULTURA after two major earthquakes hit the country in 2001. To provide professionals in El Salvador with the skills to stabilize historic buildings after an earthquake, the GCI funded and organized a two-week training course in June 2001 on emergency temporary shoring and rain protection, using the country's national monuments as practical examples. The buildings selected were Iglesia del Carmen in Santa Tecla, Nuestra Señora del Pilar in San Vicente, and Casa de la Cultura in Izalco. Julio Vargas and Daniel Torrealva, structural engineers from Peru, were contracted to design a temporary structural shoring system and rain protection for the buildings and to lead the training course, while the coverings were constructed and installed by a Salvadorian crew. Participants in the training program were selected by CONCULTURA.

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