American Express $1 Million Grant Aids Japan, India Sites

The Cathedral Church of St. Michael in Coventry, England; the historic center of Brazil’s Salvador de Bahia; and the earthquake-ravaged city of Sawara, Japan, are among World Monuments Fund sites that will share a $1 million restoration grant from American Express Foundation.

The other sites are the Ruta de la Amistad in Mexico City, 22 sculptures created for the 1968 Olympic Games; the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand; and the fragile Balaji Ghat in Varanasi, India.

“It’s a great boost to have corporate support for the World Monuments Watch,” WMF President Bonnie Burnham said by phone. “The visibility of these grants will make the public more aware of the importance of saving these buildings and sites.”

Founded in 1965, the WMF has worked to preserve more than 600 architectural and cultural sites in about 130 countries such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

American Express has given more than $10 million to the nonprofit from 1996 to 2006, aiding the conservation of more than 150 heritage sites around the world. The aid program was renewed last year with American Express pledging $5 million during the next five years to the fund’s “at-risk” sites.

The grant for the restoration of the Coventry cathedral will aid the development of a management plan for the ruins, stabilize its structure and restore medieval stained glass salvaged during World War II.

A portion of the grant will assist the rebuilding effort of seven Edo-period (1603-1867) townhouses (known as machiya) in Sawara that function as residences and workspaces. Government funding and insurance policies covered some of the rebuilding costs. More than a third of the city’s 300 machiya were damaged in the March 2011 earthquake, Burnham said.

“The authorities in Sawara had a shortfall, and the (American Express) grant will help them close the gap,” Burnham said.

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