The Yachay Wasi Conservation Programme in Peru

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It has been 20 years since the creation of Yachay Wasi in August 1993. Being the first and only institution for training conservators in Peru, Yachay Wasi assumed the unavoidable task and responsibility of designing a programme focussing on three main targets: the conservation, research and dissemination of what is one of Peru’s principal stakes for identity and development - its cultural heritage

With an invaluable material and immaterial heritage, Peru confronts the challenge of preserving more than 100,000 archaeological sites and innumerable ancient Andean traditions and technologies some of which are still in use in remote communities. Training the professionals that would be in charge of this huge patrimony seemed impossible for a small, private and non-lucrative institution like Yachay Wasi. Yet, its accomplishment is due to the hard work and collaboration of individuals and institutions committed to Peru’s development.

The link between heritage conservation and social and economic development urged Yachay Wasi to develop research projects aiming at the recuperation of pre-Columbian technologies. Their dissemination through public awareness programmes has reinforced social identity and self-assurance as well as bringing economic benefits to the involved communities.

The conservation programme: training, research and dissemination

Training
Under the supervision of the Peruvian Ministry of Education and after a thorough review by an interdisciplinary team of highly respected professionals, the Yachay Wasi Conservation Institute was established 20 years ago. It currently offers a three-year programme in the conservation of Archaeological Objects with majors in metals, ceramics and textiles and a four-year programme on conservation of paintings and sculptures.

The first obstacle that the newly established school encountered was the difficulties in establishing a faculty of conservation as there were no conservators with formal training in Peru. As a consequence, a Train the Trainers programme was introduced. Under this programme, outstanding conservators, restorers, chemists and conservation scientists joined as visiting professional trainers. So far, more than 50 international workshops and short courses have been organized to back the conservation programme. These courses have shaped and continually update the Yachay Wasi training curricula. They also bring up to date graduate students and other professionals in Latin America working with heritage.
We must thank all the individuals, institutions and, since 2007, the Getty Foundation for enabling the progress of the programme bringing the highest level of education to the conservation field in Peru and for facilitating the building of strong bonds between the international conservation community and the country.
Our graduate students are now leading Peru’s conservation community; they are incessantly raising treatment standards at the different museums, archaeological projects and private studios where they work.

Research

The experience accumulated throughout these years working on a diverse range of materials ranging from archaeological projects to convents, churches and private collections, has resulted in an ample database of database of materials, pigments, colorants etc.
This in turn has facilitated the establishment of interesting and diverse research projects.

Winning the first prize at the CONCYTEC (National Commission on Science and Technology) contest with a research on colonial art pigment characterization was the first step into realizing that, even with very scarce funding, ambitious research projects could be carried out. The key was to co-ordinate the work done in Yachay Wasi´s different programmes, fixing common objectives among the training workshops, diploma dissertations and even public awareness programmes.
Alliances and active collaboration with other institutions and/or individuals also proved essential.
At present, Yachay Wasi continues with the colonial art pigment research project in collaboration with the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP).
Another on-going research project that has at its core the workshops run by PRETECA (Program for the Reconstruction of Pre-Columbian Andean Technology) includes a collaboration with the British Museum identifying pre-Columbian natural colorants.
Next in line stands an Azulejo Conservation Project in collaboration with various institutions in Portugal due to begin August 2013.
As a private, not-for-profit institution, new challenges now face Yachay Wasi. It is now imperative to implement an analytical laboratory in order to back its training programme and research projects.

Dissemination

Building conscience on the importance of heritage as a tool to reinforce identity and its potential for economic prosperity through tourism, has always been a main concern at the Yachay Wasi Conservation Institute.
Since its foundation, lectures, seminars and short courses have been programmed at city halls, cultural associations, and high schools to support people’s participation in heritage preservation. But it wasn’t until the first decade of this century while managing the Cajamarquilla Archaeological Project, that an integral Public Awareness program involving the site’s community was designed.

Archaeological data led to two parallel projects: the recuperation of ancient species and the reconstruction of pre-Columbian textile technology.
The bond between scientific investigation and the community programmes represent an example of constructive relationships where each programme is complementary to the other.
Throughout the PRETECA programme, 45 individuals have now been trained in pre-Columbian textile weaving techniques. High school students from Cajamarquilla and their teachers also joined in an effort to reduce the high school desertion rate.
Cajamarquilla weavers have led demonstrations at the Musée du Quai Branly, taught at different textile associations in France, and now sell their products in different stores and museums.
Disseminating their material and immaterial heritage has not only enhanced their self-esteem, but also brought economic benefits to their families.
Sustainability, an indispensable requisite for the continuity of any conservation programme, has come hand in hand with the scientific approach of these community awareness programmes.

Although conserving 100,000 archaeological sites and its contents is practically impossible, Yachay Wasi has set the route to involve local communities in its protection disseminating basic conservation principles through their alumni’s influence, short courses and social web.
What’s coming next? Reaching far out to archaeologists and authorities working with heritage in remote places by an e- learning programme and setting an analytical lab to better understand Peru’s unravelled past.