PRESS RELEASE Support for Cultural Heritage under Threat

Bhutan The Wangduechhoeling Palace David Taggart

PRESS RELEASE 30 January 2020

Photo: Wangduechhoeling Palace Bhutan (c) David Taggart

Prince Claus Fund and Gerda Henkel Foundation select projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean for emergency preparedness

When natural or human-caused disaster strikes, the threat to tangible heritage is often dire. Although disasters cannot always be predicted, damage to cultural heritage may at least be mitigated through prevention. This is why the Prince Claus Fund (Amsterdam/Netherlands) and the Gerda Henkel Foundation (Düsseldorf/Germany) have launched the joint initiative “Emergency Preparedness for Cultural Heritage under Threat”. Following an international call for proposals the collaborating organisations have now approved the first nine projects. The selected submissions come from eight different countries and range from museums and archives to foundations and civil society groups. The dangers the projects address include fires, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, criminality and war. The grants average roughly € 20,000 per project.

A total of 143 proposals was received. The successful candidates are: 

AFRICA: Kenya, Zimbabwe

The Marakwet Community Heritage Group in Kenya will protect its historic furrows in the Kerio Valley from landslides. Maintaining the furrows keeps traditional skills alive and protects a unique irrigation system that provides water to all the people living in the Kerio Valley. The Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe is one of the largest museums in Southern Africa, housing an invaluable collection of natural specimens and cultural artefacts. It will use the grant to prepare a disaster management plan, to train staff in disaster preparedness and disaster risk management and to implement measures to reduce the risk of fire and flooding in the museum.

ASIA: Bhutan, India, Yemen

The Bhutan Foundation will develop a plan for disaster preparedness in case of fire to protect the Wangduechhoeling Palace, one of the country’s most important historical monuments and linked to the birth of the Bhutanese monarchy. In water-scarce India, 19th century stepwells are intricately decorated sources of potable water for irrigation and consumption. The NGO Gram Bharati Samiti will work on risk and damage assessment as well as conservation of the Sayeed Stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and make it functional again for the local population. Also in India, the organisation Doers will develop a disaster risk preparedness plan for the Victorian Gothic Gaiety Theatre built in 1887 in the city of Shimla. The historic complex is threatened by hazards such as fire, earthquake, landslides, and stampede. In Yemen, the Imam Zaid Bin Ali Cultural Foundation will train staff of public and private manuscript libraries in documentation, digitization and inventorying amidst the ongoing armed conflict.


Friends of Art in the Andes, Peru, have identified 10 Catholic churches of historical value that still play a central part in the daily life and living culture of their communities. With this grant, they will provide training to 10 local teams in disaster preparedness and emergency response to protect the heritage sites in case of earthquake or fire. The National Museum of Jamaica contains over 17,000 artefacts representing the most important historical events and cultural production of Jamaican history, but it faces multiple threats from hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Their project will provide training in various areas including risk assessment, salvage priorities and digitization to deal with these impending dangers. The National Archives of Suriname will help develop an emergency management and disaster preparedness plan for 20 heritage institutions in the Paramaribo region, all under threat from rising sea levels, storms, fires and flooding.

3 Gaiety Theatre from Back shot from the Scandal Point
9 India Doers Gaiety Theatre Complex Page 16 Image 0002 Photos: Gaiety Theatre (c) Navneet Yadav


The Prince Claus Fund and the Gerda Henkel Foundation share a commitment to fostering emergency preparedness for cultural heritage in order to minimize damage or loss when disaster strikes. The Cultural Emergency Response Programme of the Prince Claus Fund, and Funding Initiative Patrimonies of the Gerda Henkel Foundation have a history of preventing and minimizing such loss.This is just the first iteration of the collaboration: based on the expressed need and overwhelming interest in heritage rescue, there will be a second call for proposals for “Emergency Preparedness for Cultural Heritage under Threat” in the spring of 2020. 

Museums, archives, archaeological sites, libraries, and historical buildings suffer immensely and – when local resources and capacities for rescue are lacking – irreplaceable heritage may be lost forever. With this joint call, the Prince Claus Fund and the Gerda Henkel Foundation have stepped up efforts in the field, raising awareness about the importance of heritage preservation and illustrating how preventive concepts can safeguard heritage. 


The Gerda Henkel Foundation was established in June 1976 by Lisa Maskell in memory of her mother Gerda Henkel as an incorporated foundation under civil law, headquartered in Düsseldorf. The Gerda Henkel Foundation concentrates its support on the historical humanities. In some of the programmes the Foundation furthermore addresses issues of great relevance to contemporary life and the future. In connection with funded projects, the Foundation also provides assistance for social support measures as part of complementary projects. The Gerda Henkel Foundation can by virtue of its statutes pursue its objectives both inside and outside Germany. 

With its “Patrimonies” funding initiative the Foundation promotes the preservation of cultural heritage, specifically in regions experiencing crisis.


Based on the principle that culture is a basic need, the Prince Claus Fund’s mission is to actively support, connect and celebrate artists and cultural practitioners where cultural expression is under pressure.

Through its Cultural Emergency Response programme, the Prince Claus Fund provides rapid and effective emergency relief for cultural heritage affected by disasters. By taking immediate action, the Prince Claus Fund aims to prevent further damage and implement basic repairs. Launched in 2003 in reaction to the looting and demolition of artworks from the National Museum of Iraq, Cultural Emergency Response is committed to the idea that rescuing cultural heritage provides hope and consolation to affected communities and thereby contributes to restoring human dignity, continuity and a sense of identity. Recognising that local actors are the first defenders of heritage, the Prince Claus Fund also organises training in heritage rescue, supports regional centres of expertise and links heritage rescuers around the globe.


Press office Gerda Henkel Foundation:
Dr. Sybille Wüstemann, [email protected] | Tel. +49 211 93 65 24  19

Martine Willekens, Prince Claus Fund PR Manager

[email protected] | +31(0) 20.344.9160 | +31 (0)