American Express Awards $1 Million to 2020 World Monuments Watch Sites
Generous support from American Express will enable World Monuments Fund to preserve and protect critical cultural heritage sites around the world while exploring new solutions for sustainable tourism
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, September 17 — American Express and World Monuments Fund (WMF) today announced $1 million in funding to support preservation efforts at seven diverse cultural sites included in the 2020 World Monuments Watch.
For more than two decades, American Express has provided essential support for WMF’s work to preserve cultural heritage sites around the world against the increasing threats of climate change, natural disasters, conflicts, and neglect. This continued support from American Express, which in 1996 became the Founding Sponsor of the Watch, will help ensure that generations to come will be able to experience these places of wonder.
The seven sites selected to receive financial support are among the 25 included on the biennial Watch, which aims to raise awareness about their significance and needs for the future. The $1 million in grants from American Express will fund a variety of projects across all seven sites in 8 countries:
- Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island, Chile;
- Inari-Yu Bathhouse, Tokyo, Japan;
- Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom;
- Central Aguirre Historic District, Puerto Rico, United States;
- Canal Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico;
- Courtyard Houses of Axerquía, Córdoba, Spain;
- Koutammakou, Benin and Togo.
Among this year’s key selection criteria was an emphasis on sustainable tourism. American Express and WMF are committed to addressing the current and future impacts of tourism on local economies, communities, and the environment by supporting projects that reinforce local and regional tourism, raise awareness of underrepresented heritage, and reduce the displacement of local communities.
For example, the project at Bennerley Viaduct aims to stimulate local tourism and draw attention to this form of industrial heritage and the role it can play in modern life. In Córdoba, Spain, workshops and discussions will be organized in coordination with local and regional planning authorities to develop viable recommendations for the future of the historic neighborhood, including sustainable tourism strategies. In Mexico City, the Canal Nacional project will develop a series of cultural programs, enhanced site interpretation, and workshops to solidify community-led management and maintenance of the historic canal contributing to a broader recognition of its significance within the city and beyond.
“As a long-time supporter of historic preservation efforts, American Express is proud to play a role in ensuring the sustainability of treasured landmarks around the world for generations to come,” said Timothy J. McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation. “The sites included in the 2020 World Monuments Watch are each critical to the social and economic identities of the communities around them.”
“This generous support from American Express could not come at a more critical time,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, CEO, World Monuments Fund. “As the current global pandemic slows travel around the world it has brought significant economic hardship to many local communities who rely on tourism, while revealing ecological and social benefits. As we begin to reopen and rebuild, it is crucial that we explore new solutions that make sustainable tourism a central priority in the future of these sites.”
The World Monuments Watch is a biennial selection of prominent cultural heritage sites that combine great historical significance with contemporary social impact. Since 1996, the program has issued a call to action for 861 sites and worked with their communities to safeguard them and raise awareness of their intrinsic value.
Over the past 20 years, American Express, the Founding Sponsor of the Watch, has given $19 million to help preserve 173 World Monuments Watch sites in 67 countries. It has also partnered with leading organizations to preserve other sites in need, build awareness and engage the public in preservation efforts across the world. Through these partnerships and other individual grants, American Express has granted more than $81 million since 1974 to help to preserve more than 755 sites.
Rapa Nui, or “Easter Island,” an island in the southeast Pacific, is the home of a Polynesian people whose arrival between the seventh and tenth centuries led to a society that has endured to the present day. Their ancestors erected the ceremonial statues known as moai throughout the island and commemorated sacred rituals with carvings on basalt boulders at the site of Orongo after the fifteenth century. The unique rock carvings are threatened today by exposure and the inherent weakness of the underlying rock. With the support of American Express, WMF will join the Ma’u Henua Indigenous Community, now responsible for the administration of Rapa Nui National Park, in developing a solution to safeguard these irreplaceable petroglyphs, which retain their communal and spiritual significance after many centuries.
Communal bathing in a public bathhouse, like Tokyo’s Inari-yu, has been a feature of Japanese daily life for centuries. Although Tokyo was home to more than 2,500 such bathhouses in the mid-20th century, only about one-fifth survive today, the result of changing lifestyles and the high demand for real estate in this booming megacity. At the Inari-yu Bathhouse, thanks to American Express, WMF will join a local effort to update the institution of the bathhouse for the twenty-first century, while staying true to its historic function and aesthetic. The transformation of an attached structure into an informal gathering space will allow Inari-yu to strengthen its role as a community gathering place for the elderly in the neighborhood. Preserving and promoting the unique architecture of Inari-yu will also help attract new customers and foreign visitors seeking to learn about a distinctly Japanese way of life.
Built to carry a new railroad line across a broad river valley in the East Midlands of England, Bennerley Viaduct is one only two wrought-iron viaducts surviving in the country. The structure was taken out of use in 1968 but calls for its demolition were met with local resistance over the years. Today, a newly established community group, the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct, has embraced a vision to reclaim and restore the structure and open it to community use. With support from American Express, WMF will develop and implement educational and community engagement activities alongside ongoing necessary repairs and upgrades thanks to a coalition of civil society organizations and other funders. The plan is part of a nationwide drive to transform disused railway routes into trails for walking and cycling, promoting health and well-being, helping strengthen social ties, and making it easier for people to experience nature and the outdoors.
The Central Aguirre Historic District is a former company town built on behalf of an American sugar company in 1899. The residential area of Central Aguirre was primarily composed of wooden houses with corrugated metal roofs, divided into two sections. The first had large cottages with decorative features sitting on expansive lawns for the American administrators; the second was the section of Montesoria, built for workers, with modest wooden and concrete houses. The town was damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. In partnership with a local organization and the State Historic Preservation Office of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and with support from American Express, WMF will host a field school on traditional wooden construction methods for residents and tradespeople and will jointly develop a model restoration project for Aguirre while helping to re-establish key building techniques and skills for the region.
Built over 2,000 years ago, Mexico City’s Canal Nacional is a rare survivor of a once-expansive network of canals that disappeared as the city developed in the twentieth century. Today the waterway forms a gathering place for the communities living alongside it and sustains a natural habitat for animals, birds, and plants in the heart of the densely populated city. The canal has been included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch to celebrate the residents and neighborhood associations that have championed its protection through the years. With help from American Express, WMF will develop and coordinate a series of cultural programs, enhanced site interpretation, and community workshops over a two-year period to solidify community-led management and maintenance of the historic canal contributing to a broader recognition of its significance within the city.
The historic center of Córdoba is one of the largest historic districts in Europe, known internationally for its courtyard houses and the Fiesta de los Patios—an annual festival that receives thousands of visitors. Today the city is at the center of an ongoing debate about the impact of mass tourism on the community life of neighborhoods like Axerquía, as long-term residents abandon their courtyard houses seeking a more comfortable life away from the city center. The Courtyard Houses of Axerquía were included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch to place a spotlight on local efforts to repopulate the historic district and encourage increased community engagement. With support from American Express, WMF will host workshops and discussions in coordination with local and regional planning authorities to develop viable recommendations for the future of the historic neighborhood, including sustainable tourism strategies.
Koutammakou, a mountainous savanna region that straddles the border of modern-day Benin and Togo, has been the homeland of the Batammariba people for centuries. The Batammariba name means “those who are the real architects of earth,” pointing to the role of earthen construction traditions in Batammariba society and culture. The takienta, the Batammariba house and the setting for all community life, consisting of a cluster of mud structures bound together by a continuous mud wall. The 2020 World Monuments Watch has called for a new focus on Batammariba livelihoods and the factors that are contributing to social change for this indigenous community. With the support of American Express, WMF will develop strategies to document local building practices and encourage the transfer of this unique traditional knowledge to future generations.
Visit wmf.org/2020watch for more.
Images available upon request.
About American Express
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About World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization devoted to saving the world’s treasured places. For more than 50 years, working in over 100 countries, its highly skilled experts have applied proven and effective techniques to the preservation of important architectural and cultural heritage sites around the globe. Through partnerships with local communities, funders, and governments, WMF seeks to inspire an enduring commitment to stewardship for future generations. Headquartered in New York City, the organization has offices and affiliates worldwide. Visit www.wmf.org for more information or connect with us on www.facebook.com/worldmonuments, www.twitter.com/worldmonuments, and instagram.com/worldmonumentsfund.
Judith Walker, World Monuments Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org, 646-573-0912
Andrew Johnson, American Express, email@example.com, 212-640-8610