Cultural Preservation Grants Support Projects in 76 Countries

By Louise Fenner
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States is helping support the preservation of ancient and historic sites around the world, as well as museum collections and traditional forms of expression such as music, dance and language.  In 2006, nearly $3 million in grants are being awarded for projects in 76 countries.

The Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation has announced its awards for 2006, covering 87 projects ranging from the restoration of two mosques in Tanzania to the conservation of some 2,000 items of ancient jewelry reflecting the history of Kyrgyzstan.  The projects cover every region of the world.

The U.S. Congress established the Ambassador's Fund in 2001, directing the State Department to set aside $1 million to assist countries in preserving their cultural heritage. The funding level has increased each year and is now at $3 million.  Since its inception, the program has awarded 379 preservation grants in 108 countries.

“U.S. efforts in preserving the heritage of other cultures demonstrate America's appreciation and respect for those cultures," said Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Dina Habib Powell in a State Department announcement.

The fund selects preservation projects based on urgency, impact and quality of the proposal.  As its name indicates, the proposals come from U.S. ambassadors throughout the world.  This year ECA’s Cultural Heritage Center, which administers the program, received 164 proposals.

One of the grants awarded this year will help the Krygyz State Museum of History conserve its collection of jewelry dating from the Bronze Age to the present. The collection is deteriorating due to the lack of facilities for safe storage, and some items – such as gold jewelry dating from the fourth and fifth centuries – never have been displayed in Kyrgyzstan, according to the project proposal.  The jewelry was found in archaeological excavations and comes from local materials - thus it is invaluable in researching the historical development of the region, the proposal said.

Another grant will help preserve two mosques on the island of Pemba off the coast of Tanzania that date to the mid-17th or early 18th century and still are in use for worship.  The mosques have unique features that combine Swahili and Shirazi (Persian) architecture but have fallen into disrepair.

The area is one of the poorest and most remote in Tanzania, and the mosques “are an extremely important aspect of the culture of these villagers,” said the project proposal. “When asked which was a higher priority for the community - access to fresh water or restoration of their historic mosque - the village elders unanimously stated that restoring the mosques was more important.”

Among the other cultural heritage projects approved for funding in 2006 are:

• mosaics dating from the fifth century to the 10th century from forgotten cities of Northern Syria that originally decorated the floors and walls of churches, estates and bathhouses;

• house structures dating from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 400 in the archeological site at Chiripa, Bolivia;

• Nag Bahal Hiti, a water supply system dating from the year 500 that is still a major source of water for residents of Patan and part of the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Site in Nepal;

• Buddhist Sutra manuscripts in China from the Ming and Qing dynasties;

• ancient textiles and embroidery works, many decorated with precious stones and metals, at the Amiranashvili Art Museum in Tblisi, Georgia; and

• Nabataean period frescos in the caves of Beidha, Jordan.

For more information, see the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation page at the State Department Web site.