Blog Post

Honoring Crisis Response Leaders at Our Second Annual Summer Soirée 

To toast the start of summer, lovers of heritage gathered in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Terrace Room for World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) second annual Summer Soirée, a celebration of heritage’s potential as a source of hope—and its capacity to serve as the foundation on which we can build a better and more peaceful future. 

This year’s event, which took place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and just a few months after earthquakes devastated large parts of Türkiye and Syria, focused on crisis response. This year’s Watch Award honorees, Dr. Marwa Al-Sabouni & Prof. Dr. Zeynep Gül Ünal, were selected for their commitment to protecting treasured places for future generations and their leadership in post-crisis recovery, whether in the face of conflict or natural disasters. 

“We do what we do because we know the real social cost of losing our cultural heritage.” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF’s President and CEO. “We believe that in the wake of devastating events, places become invaluable spaces for survivors to gather, commemorate, and rebuild.” As she noted, WMF has devoted itself to crisis response since its foundation, launching a restoration campaign in the aftermath of major flooding in Venice in 1966.   

Following these words of welcome, the Honorable Lee Satterfield, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, delivered a speech in which she highlighted the Department’s commitment to Ukraine’s cultural heritage and the ways in which protecting and preserving cultural heritage during times of conflict can serve national security goals. 

“When we can come together and preserve cultural heritage, identity, history, and something that is so important to a culture of the people and that creates an opportunity for economic empowerment locally,” she said in her address, “that's really what we're striving to do. And I think that we're so aligned in the goals in that effort.”  

Introducing the evening’s honorees were Annie Liang-Zhou and Henry Iseman, Co-Chairs of WMF’s Junior Board, which hosted the evening’s event. “It is an honor for us to lead this exceptional group of young philanthropists who share a common belief in the immense potential of cultural preservation,” said Ms. Liang-Zhou. “We firmly believe in the power of heritage to unite communities, ignite creativity, and encourage healing.” 

Iseman, her co-chair, added that heritage sites “serve as bridges that connect communities across the globe and generations across time. By nurturing these connections, we enhance our understanding of ourselves and our many histories that reinforce the resilience of our communities.” 

The evening’s honorees delivered their remarks remotely. “I think the importance of heritage, as experienced in my country, is to see heritage…as a living being,” said Dr. Al-Sabouni, an author and architect from Homs, Syria. Her innovative architectural practice often involves reconstruction in conflict zones and asks how the built environment can foster social harmony. Dedicating her award to her homeland, Dr. Al-Sabouni stated that the task of architects working in post-crisis areas is to “redeliver those meaningful places to people.” 

“I think the most challenging situation is the scale of the disaster,” said Prof. Dr. Zeynep Gül Ünal, Vice President of ICOMOS and ICORP, of the February earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. “The scale is huge. Approximately 96 million tons of waste in an area with almost 8,000 registered historic buildings.” As work moved from the emergency response phase to early recovery work, she said, it was critical to understand the needs of the community and maintain their connection with their home. 

WMF’s Crisis Response Fund provides resources for early recovery actions so that heritage sites can build community resiliency, create economic opportunity, and strengthen social cohesion in the wake of disaster. You can support our efforts by donating here

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World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.  

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