Arts and cultural organizations around the world are pledging “cultural first aid” to help the museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions in Beirut that were badly damaged by the massive explosion that ripped through large swaths of the city earlier this month.
In a recent statement, a coalition of 27 major organizations pledged to “do all that we can to contribute to the complete recovery of the heritage that has been damaged in Beirut by this blast.”
Organizations that signed the statement, issued on August 11, include the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage, in Bahrain; the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph); the Louvre, in Paris; Morocco’s National Museum Foundation; the National Museum of China; and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Unesco has said that it will lead the international assistance. “The international community has sent a strong signal of support to Lebanon following this tragedy,” Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, the agency’s assistant director-general for culture, said in a separate statement. “Unesco is committed to leading the response in the field of culture.”
Meanwhile, Beirut-based organizations, some of which saw their own offices destroyed, have moved quickly to begin helping smaller galleries, cultural centers and individual artists.
Devastation in the City’s Creative Heart
The blast, attributed by the authorities to 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate left in a warehouse at the city’s port, did particularly severe damage to the nearby historic neighborhoods of Gemmayze and Mar Mikhaël.
An initial assessment found that 8,000 buildings, many concentrated in those two districts, were affected, according to Sarkis Khoury, director-general of antiquities at Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture. Among them are some 640 historic buildings, approximately 60 of which are at risk of collapse.
Gemmayze and Mar Mikhaël were the center of the creative life of the city, with numerous artists’ studios, art galleries, bookshops, cafes and a thriving night life. Now they are scenes of devastation, with rubble and crushed cars littering the streets and building after building with its façade damaged or blown off.