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West Lake Conservators CEO aids art rescue in Haiti

Susan Blakney, chief executive officer of West Lake Conservators located in Mottville, recently took a trip to Haiti.

The reason for the trip? To help assess the damage done to the nation's art heritage by an earthquake that rocked the small seaside country on Jan. 12.

She was part of a group sent to the city of Port-au-Prince on May 4 that included conservators from both the Smithsonian Institution and Virginia state archives as well as several engineers. The trip was a cooperative effort headed by the Smithsonian Institution.

Blakney is a member of the American Institute for Conservation's Collection Emergency Response Team. Members of the team were among those who went to Haiti to assess the damage and plan for the preservation of some of the thousands of works of art affected by the quake.

"We are a group trained to respond to cultural disasters," Blakney said. "We are made up of conservators and museum personnel who go in and rescue complete collections after a disaster."

Blakney's role in Haiti included inspecting the art and helping plan for a new regional conservation center.

"We were actually taken to 12 different cultural institutions and what we did was we surveyed and assessed the condition of the buildings and the collection and then we had to write up a report," Blakney said. "That report will be useful to secure more funding and to plan for what we need to do."

The long-term goal of the effort is to train Haitians to preserve their own art. Currently there aren't any art conservators from Haiti, but a new conservation center could change that.

The building that has been chosen survived the earthquake and was declared structurally intact by engineers, Blakney said. It has 7,600 square feet of space. The hope is to get the center running by June, but complete funding has yet to be secured.

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