Conserving Our Culturally Significant Overseas Heritage for Diplomacy
The Fund to Conserve United States Diplomatic Treasures Abroad was created as a public-private partnership to promote – through fundraising – the conservation and preservation of the Department of State’s heritage collections, as well as its buildings of cultural and architectural significance. These properties and collections represent over two centuries of United States diplomacy around the world. They reflect many global traditions, and our respect for the cultures of the countries in which the U.S. has diplomatic missions.
All Americans benefit from the protection of these treasures, because they stand as important sentinels of our national values, as well as stewardship of the cultural patrimony of all world cultures.
The Department of State began identifying its valuable collection items in 1983 by having the first professional appraisal done of the furniture, works of art, antiquities and textiles contained within U.S. Embassy buildings in Rome. This systematic evaluation and documentation of what were known or thought to be high value objects was repeated at other U.S. embassy properties worldwide, as resources permitted, over the next three decades. Yet despite the progress made in documenting the larger collections, the Department lacked a systematic means of identifying, categorizing and documenting some 17,000 objects worldwide that fell into the heritage assets category. The Office of Cultural Heritage was established in 2015 to monitor and care for the collections, as well as the Department’s historic buildings. It has implemented a collections stewardship program, in keeping with museum standards and best practices.
The Office of Cultural Heritage has replaced an outmoded cataloguing database to a state-of-the-art collections management system used by major museums. Under the direction of a collections manager, items are now systematically recorded and categorized, with each object record containing the maker, culture, date/period, medium, dimensions, provenance, location, condition and other relevant details.
OUR TREASURES AROUND THE WORLD
The Treasures encompass both architecture and heritage asset collections
The buildings and collections serve the goals and purposes of United States Diplomacy
The State Department did not set out to build the magnificent collections now stewarded by the Office of Cultural Heritage. Before the Department started building chanceries, consulates, and residences, it bought centrally located structures that often were buildings of distinction. Many times the purchase price included significant collections of fine and decorative arts. In other instances, ambassadors donated objects; in some cases they were gifts; and recently, purchases of contemporary art have become a routine part of the construction budget for new U.S. embassy buildings. In these perilous times the Department’s resources are prioritized in other directions. Yet the demands of cultural stewardship do not decrease.
Architecture includes buildings and grounds located in countries all over the world. Many of the buildings are listed on the Secretary of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property, as well as the host country’s equivalent of our National Register. They include U.S. embassy chanceries, consulates, and ambassadors’ residences. (See Media section of website for the Secretary of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property publication.)
Zaha Hadid, Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Center, 2007, automotive paint, water base onto gelatin and chrome-polyester, 35 x 78 in. United States Embassy Baghdad, Iraq.
The collections include furniture as well as fine and decorative arts spanning centuries and cultures, representing a variety of styles and media. Included in the heritage collections are works of art acquired for the U.S. embassies, consulates and annexes built in recent years. Curated by the Department of State’s Office of Art in Embassies, these collections of art by American and local artists serve as a bridge with the host country’s arts and celebrates the ties between American and local visual cultures. These collections can include site-specific and commissioned works.
A COMMITMENT TO PRESERVATION
Creation of the Office of Cultural Heritage and The Fund to Conserve United States Diplomatic Treasures Abroad reflects an evolving appreciation of the importance of the State Department’s cultural property.
Preserving and Restoring Diplomatic Treasures Abroad
The Fund to Conserve United States Diplomatic Treasures Abroad reflects a growing sense of commitment toward stewardship of the U.S. State Department’s overseas historic buildings and heritage collections. Worldwide, other nations entrust the U.S. government with treasured cultural assets that support our diplomatic presence in their homeland. It is our nation’s duty and privilege to care for these historic buildings and collections.
With Department resources focused on pressing global concerns, there is immediate need for preservation support. Currently, dozens of properties at diplomatic posts worldwide have been identified for preservation or restoration.
By raising sponsorship for these conservation efforts, The Fund to Conserve supports the State Department in honoring world heritage and fostering effective diplomacy.