Double Your Impact at the Year-End with SPI

2011 has been an exciting and productive year for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative. Check out our holiday newsletter for more details, but we’ve been spanning the globe with our unique paradigm of preserving endangered archaeological sites by empowering impoverished communities. From Peru to Jordan, we invest in locally-owned businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the site.

As the New Year approaches, help us continue to transform the lives of these communities and preserve precious cultural heritage for future generations with an online donation. Donate by December 31st and not only can you take advantage of a 2011 tax deduction, but thanks to the support of a generous donor, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. That’s how committed SPI’s biggest supporters are to continuing our work.

San Jose De Moro Ceramics in the Lima Art Museum

You’re excavating under the hot, Peruvian sun. Digging in the dirt, you hit something with your trowel. Further careful brushing reveals first a pottery handle, then the rest of a ceramic vessel, covered with detailed painted decoration. You’ve just uncovered of a piece of ancient Peruvian history: a fine-line ceramic pot of ancient Moche civilization.

 The Moche, a civilization that flourished from the first to eighth centuries in northern Peru, were renowned for their skills in ceramic making. They made bottles in shapes that are at times macabre (a prisoner to a skeletal couple with a child) and at times erotic, as well as in the  “stirrup-sprout” shape.

Moche ceramic in shape of skeletal couple with child. Metropolitan Museum, New York, New York. The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967 (1978.412.196).

Moche ceramic in "stirrup-sprout" shape. Metropolitan Museum, New York, New York. The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1961 (1978.412.70).

It is this ancient tradition and skill that Julio Ibarrola and his skilled team of artisans replicate at San Jose de Moro, Peru, an archaeological site of the ancient Moche. These artisans have gone through extensive training at the artisan and tourist center, built by the local residents of the community with a SPI grant. The permanent jobs created by the construction of the artisan and tourist center have generated thousands of dollars in artisan sales for local residents.

The talent of Julio Ibarrola and his team continues to impress. These exquisite ceramics have sold out wherever they’ve been shown and we’re proud to say that they are now offered at the gift shop at the Lima Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Lima)!

The Lima Art Museum Gift Shop

Replica Moche Ceramics created by San Jose De Moro artisans.

2011 ICOMOS General Assembly: Recap and Thoughts

In blue blazers, hats, and ascots and white pants, a band of sailors played oom-pah to announce the beginning of the 17th General Assembly of ICOMOS, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, during an opening reception at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. At this week-long conference, 1,219 experts from 106 different countries convened to discuss this Assembly’s theme: “Heritage, a Driver of Development.” The keynote panel, featuring four Frenchmen, but no representatives fromAsia orLatin America, expounded on how, why, and when cultural heritage can push development.

What is the best way to collect data? What is the best way to manage a cultural heritage site? What is the most effective way to preserve the world’s cultural heritage? Suggestions came from all over: Paul Burtenshaw and Chiara Bonnacchi of UCL gave an excellent talk on archaeology and data gathering; theAlhambrainGranada,Spainwas cited by several speakers as a well-managed monument, and James Rebanks emphasized that you have to make preservation an economic reality.

SPI Founder and CEO Larry Coben urged investment in locally-owned and self-supporting businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the cultural heritage site. By presenting several case studies that applied this unique paradigm, he showed that preservation and development are most effective when they operate in tandem. In the words of Coben, it’s about “people not stones,” a notion prompting the shock and delight of at least one French heritage expert.

However, the ICOMOS conference, if anything, shows how far most preservation organizations have to go to drive economic and social development: “While everyone here is talking about achieving economic and social goals, involving the community, and getting young people involved, SPI is actually doing it,” Coben said. “It’s about practice not just theory, though I have plenty of theory.”

In addition, there was a glaring lack of undeveloped countries and rural sites being discussed at the conference. “With a few exceptions, the focus here was primarily urban, primarily the developed world,” Coben remarked. “Everyone is talking about social and cultural benefits, but no one is talking about feeding poor people.”

Except SPI. With its new paradigm that focuses on both preservation and development in impoverished local communities of cultural heritage sites, SPI is paving the way for a new kind of preservation. One that everyone is talking about and one that will change the world in the process.

Find out more about SPI by visiting our website at and on Facebook at

The S in SPI

One of the goals of Sustainable Preservation Initiative is to preserve the world’s cultural heritage for future generations. We believe that in order to be effective, this preservation needs to be sustainable.

 What exactly do we mean by “sustainable”?

First and foremost, sustainable means economically sustainable.

We invest in local communities and their cultural heritage for the future and are interested in long-term results. By investing in local businesses that create local jobs, SPI’s new paradigm for preservation provides an ongoing revenue stream for the local community and preservation. These businesses are self-supporting and locally-owned. The artisan and tourist center mentioned below is a great example. Not only did the construction of the center employ members of the community, but also created more than 12 permanent jobs and a class of future entrepreneurs.

Sustainable also means scalable.

Previous preservation paradigms have often been one-time acts of largesse: the construction of huge visitor’s centers and museums at small, out-of-the-way sites that now lie empty and derelict. Why not start with a simple gate, as SPI founder Larry Coben did at the archaeological site of Incallajta, about 100 miles east of Cochabamba, Bolivia? By working with the local community to install a $50 gate and charge tourists $10 to see the ruins, the community earned $80 in two weeks. That’s more than a complete return on investment in less than 14 days. Economically sustainable and scalable.

Last, but not least, sustainable means re-use.

Using a community’s resources effectively is part of what being sustainable is all about. At SPI’s project in San Jose De Moro,Peru, local community members constructed an artisan and tourist center near its ancient Moche archaeological site. Not only did the construction project employ local people from the town, but the bricks used to construct the center were made by re-using the dirt from the archaeological excavations there. Take a closer look at sustainability in action in this SPI photo of the week.

We believe that the best way to preserve the world’s cultural heritage is to invest in the lives of those who have the greatest effect on them: local communities. That’s the beauty of sustainability–it means not having to sacrifice something at the expense of another. It’s working together for the improvement of everything involved: the well-being of the community, the cultural heritage, and the knowledge it gives the rest of us.

So, our definition of “sustainable”: saving sites by transforming lives.

Photo of the Week

Julio Ibarrola, a ceramicist renowned for his replicas of late Moche fineline ceramics like those excavated on site at San Jose De Moro, Peru, pulls a finished piece out of the kiln.

Julio and Eloy Uriarte, a blacksmith specializing in archaeological tools and implements, both direct the artisan workshop at San Jose De Moro.

Under Julio’s direction teenagers from the community have learned the tradition of creating the replicas of the Moche fine-line ceramics.   Once the students have reached a sufficient level of craftsman ship they go on to sell their display and sell their wares within the exhibition and store facilities. The teenagers receive 80% of the revenue earned on the sale of the items they have produced. They invest the remaining money in the project to pay for raw materials and facility maintenance.