41st Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Business Meeting and Luncheon, May 30, “Conservators as Diplomats,” by Mary-Jo Adams

FincaVigiaThe PMG luncheon was business as usual, with an approval of the minutes and budget, and a welcoming of the new committee, but we also had the privilege of hearing from Mary-Jo Adams, Executive Director of the Finca Vigía Foundation.
Founded in 2003, the Finca Vigía Foundation is an American organization developed to preserve Ernest Hemingway’s house and property in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, about 12 miles outside of Havana. Hemingway lived in the house from 1939-1960 and it was opened to the public by the Cuban government after Hemingway’s death. In 2005, Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”) was deemed one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places, and in 2006 it was added to the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. The house itself is still filled with original furniture, artwork, and other objects, including Hemingway’s car and personal library. During Adams’s talk, she detailed the work that has been done up to this point to restore the site to its original appearance.
The majority of funding for the Foundation’s preservation efforts comes from corporations, as donations to Cuba can be a bit tricky for the private sector. With that money, Adams and her team have been able to bring in specialists in architecture, engineering, and conservation to begin the process of repairing the estate and the collection. NEDCC has partnered with the foundation to consult on the conservation of archival materials, and photograph conservator Monique Fischer traveled to Cuba in 2012 to contribute to the efforts. All of the necessary materials were brought from the U.S. to treat, digitize, and re-house the books, papers, and photographs in the library collection.
Another part of the initiative includes the training of Cuban volunteers on site and in preservation classes and workshops held in Havana. As Adams described, the greatest challenge has been to collaborate with the Cuban people through their many cultural and language differences. For instance, the Spanish word for “endangered” roughly translates to “neglected,” so it is Adams’s job to explain the ongoing risks to the estate and best practices for its preservation. The title to the talk, “Conservators as Diplomats” refers to the need for cultural heritage professionals to work at gaining the trust of their foreign colleagues before trying to force help upon them…It also doesn’t hurt to have the assistance of international celebrities like Cuban-American home improvement guru Bob Villa, who not only advised on areas of the building repair, but has advocated for site’s preservation.
Adams expects that active restoration efforts of Finca Vigía should be complete by 2017. For more information, please visit the Foundation’s website.