PCW, Protecting Culture

Participants plotted their own strategies and plans as part of the workshop.
Participants plotted their own strategies and plans as part of the workshop.


With 6 months of the year being designated as our annual hurricane season, various agencies in Barbados have put significant effort into public campaigns to bring awareness to issues of hurricane preparedness. While we have not had significant impact and devastation from hurricanes since Janet in 1955, it is understood that we have to be proactive and stand ready in the event of the range of disasters and natural hazards that can potentially affect our small island.

Much of our public education campaigns will speak of how to protect life and property, but there is limited information on how to protect our cultural assets. We can all agree that protection of life must be the top priority in any response to hazards and disasters. However, Pinelands Creative Workshop has also recognised the immense value of safeguarding our cultural heritage. As such, PCW hosted a one-day workshop on Cultural First Aid in collaboration with ICCROM, CARBICA, the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Archives and the Swedish Postcode Foundation. This event aimed to sensitise participants to the impact that disasters can have on aspects of culture and build capacity for handling of cultural materials pre and post disaster.

The facilitators for the day’s activities were Halcyon Wiltshire-Busby and Nerys Rudder. Workshop participants were drawn from several organisations including Eco Rebel; CARE Barbados; Pinelands Creative Workshop and Rhema Artistic Consultants and Theatre Services. There was also representation from two of Barbados’ District Emergency Organisations: St Michael South East and St Philip South. It was a day of engaging discussion and enlightenment. Participants learnt about the links between cultural heritage and disaster management. According to Wiltshire-Busby, “People and their culture are inextricably linked, and it is therefore necessary for cultural practitioners and emergency responders to work collaboratively.”

When we think of hazards or disasters in Barbados, we tend to consider weather-related phenomenon such as hurricanes and floods, or other incidents such as fires and earthquakes. However, this workshop highlighted the reality that hazards and disasters may also include civil disturbance, pest infestations and pandemics such as Covid-19. All of these may negatively impact the viability of the cultural industries. In order to minimise that risk, stakeholder engagement is of paramount importance, especially in the planning and response phases. Participants were encouraged to have a strategy for Disaster Risk Management in Heritage in order to implement policies and protocols to prevent risks and reduce losses.

One of the highlights of the morning session was the disaster simulation. In small groups, participants were asked to use a collection of artistic materials to create a visual representation of their ideal village, incorporating elements of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Each group felt accomplished and explained the various elements of their village with great pride, after which, all participants were asked to step outside for a photo session. On returning to the room, participants were met with a surprise. Their village creations had been devastated by ‘hazards and disasters’ of fire, tsumani/floods, pest infestations, theft and hurricanes. This activity was excellent in simulating the feelings of shock, confusion and hopelessness – feelings which are often experienced after such disasters – and it reinforced the need for adequate planning before a disaster strikes, but also the need to build back better post disaster.

In the afternoon session, conservator Nerys Rudder gave participants a crash course in conservation planning for personal and public material culture that is deemed to be at risk during a disaster or hazard. These may include audio recordings; books; photographs; visual art; costumes and textiles; antiques; architecture; ceramics, musical instruments and much more. Rudder stressed the importance of pre-planning in identifying the most likely and risks and severity of resulting consequences. She also encouraged participants to create a ‘grab list’ of items which emergency personnel should attempt to save in the event of a disaster. This, again, reinforced the need for stakeholder collaboration, as it would also be necessary for emergency personnel to be briefed in advance on how to handle items on the grab list.

Rudder emphasised the steps to be taken before, during and after an emergency. As a bonus, she went through a list of cultural items and identified their most serious threats, shared ways to safeguard those materials from damage and explained how to handle them in the event that damage was unavoidable. Participants were eager to learn more and implored PCW to facilitate further conservation training so that Rudder can share more extensively in this area.

The benefits of this new PCW initiative were clearly seen by the end of the workshop. We can expect to see similar sessions being offered to various stakeholder groups as PCW expands its mandate to provide training in culturally relevant areas for communities across Barbados.