Friday, January 15, 2016

Making a Difference: SAFE Founder Cindy Ho Awarded AIA's Outstanding Public Service Award

Indifference is a word unknown to Cindy Ho. A graphic designer and independent professional, Ms. Ho created Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) in 2003 in an effort to stop the destruction of humanity's heritage. She took action in direct response to looters ransacking the Iraqi national museum.

SAFE founder Cindy Ho
"We're dealing with a global problem that's fueled by the black-market antiquities trade," Ms. Ho announced soon after SAFE started. "It's important to inform the general public that our collective cultural heritage is in danger."

For her distinguished accomplishments and unwavering resolve, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) last week conferred its prestigious Outstanding Public Service Award on Ms. Ho during a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, California.

"To know and not to act is not to know," she exhorted, quoting Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming, inspiring ceremony attendees to apply their collective knowledge to protect cultural heritage.

Ms. Ho's energy and perseverance propelled SAFE to become the preeminent grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the past through public awareness. During her leadership, spanning the time of its founding through 2014, SAFE spearheaded widely popular projects such as
  • the annual Global Candlelight Vigil, commemorating the looting of the Iraq Museum;
  • the Say Yes campaigns, rallying public support for import controls to protect endangered archaeological artifacts;
  • the Beacon Awards, honoring notable defenders of cultural heritage; and
  • social media messaging and podcasts, making the world of antiquities trafficking familiar to everyday Americans.
A lasting legacy of Ms. Ho's endeavors has been a new generation of cultural property professionals and stakeholders--including archaeologists, museum personnel, conservators, auction house employees, and collectors--who are keenly aware of archaeological site looting and antiquities smuggling.

In her acceptance speech, the SAFE founder celebrated this notable change over the last thirteen years, declaring that "others are paying attention in a significant way."

But much more needs to be done because what hasn't changed, Ms. Ho warned, is "the no questions asked antiquities trade is still the incentive for looting and destruction." With a call for greater action resounding in her voice, she asked, "How can we possibly tell our children and our children's children that the connection to their past is no longer possible because it has been sold off....?"

Former Director General of the National Museum of Iraq and a past professor at Stony Brook University in New York, the late Dr. Donny George Youkhannahailed SAFE’s work several years ago as "critical ... for the heritage of mankind," and declared, "All those who enjoy the benefits of democracy have a duty to stand up and support those actions that will stop the destruction of history.”

Cindy Ho, in fact, stood up to secure the future of archaeology, history, and culture. Because she did so, SAFE's architect demonstrated how one citizen can make a world of difference.

It is no surprise then that the AIA last Thursday praised Ms. Ho's "tireless efforts in raising public awareness about the need to safeguard archaeological heritage."

The AIA boasts over 200,000 members and is North America's largest and oldest archaeological society, chartered by Congress in 1906. Its public service award is presented annually to a recipient who makes exceptional contributions to archaeology and the preservation of the archaeological record.

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