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“Bagan is actually a splendid site. You can imagine in only in this, like, fifty square kilometers, they have more than 3,000 monuments. And then all the monuments have different styles and different architecture.”

The ancient past of Bagan, Myanmar, is still visible today in the more than 3,000 temples, monasteries, and works of art and architecture that remain at the site. Beginning around 1000 CE, Bagan served as the capital city of the Pagan Kingdom. Many of the surviving monuments date from the 11th to 13th centuries. A number of these temples are still used by worshippers and pilgrims today. A 2016 earthquake, which damaged over 400 structures, brought renewed international attention to Bagan and its future.

In February 2020, a team from the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) returned from doing intensive preparatory work with international and local colleagues in Bagan to launch a long-term conservation project there. Soon after, the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 closed borders and halted travel. In February 2021, a coup d’état staged by the Burmese Military plunged the country into further uncertainty.

In this episode, Susan Macdonald, head of Buildings and Sites at the GCI, and Ohnmar Myo, the GCI’s consultant in Myanmar, discuss the history of Bagan, the demands and challenges of conservation there, and their hopes for the future of the site. Myo is a former project officer of the Cultural Unit, UNESCO, and was a principal preparator of the report that confirmed Bagan’s World Heritage Site status in 2019. This conversation was recorded in January 2021, under very different circumstances, but it captures the curiosity, ambitions, optimism, and collaborative spirit that guided the project at that time.

More to explore:

Getty Conservation Institute’s Bagan Conservation Project learn more
Getty article about Bagan read more


JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
OHNMAR MYO: Bagan is actually a splendid site. You can imagine in only in this, like, fifty square kilometers, they have more than 3,000 monuments. And then all the monuments have different styles and different architecture.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Susan Macdonald, head of field projects at the Getty Conservation Institute, and Ohnmar Myo, the GCI’s consultant in Bagan, Myanmar.
In January 2021, I spoke with Susan Macdonald and Ohnmar Myo about their work in Bagan, Myanmar. A month later, in February, democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by Myanmar’s military. Unrest and uncertainty followed and many of the world’s governments, including the US, responded with condemnation and sanctions.
Months earlier, in 2020, conservators from the Getty’s Conservation Institute returned from a major conservation program in Bagan, where they undertook intensive work to document temples, perform structural diagnostic work, record the physical condition of wall paintings, and deliver two training workshops for the staff of the country’s Department of Archaeology and National Museum.
Shortly after the Getty team returned to the US, the outbreak of COVID halted international travel. And as the deadly virus spread, borders closed and international teams cancelled conservation campaigns for the year. Nevertheless, the Getty team continued to work remotely as best they could, with colleagues in Bagan and consultants working from their homes in various parts of the world.
Today, the people of Myanmar continue to suffer from COVID 19. Challenges to the healthcare system, including a shortage of medical supplies and personnel, are having a devastating affect across the country.
What the future holds for Myanmar, its people, and its heritage, remains uncertain. Reports from Myanmar are that the military government has voiced its commitment to conserving the site of Bagan in line with the integrated management framework that was developed for the site at the time of the world heritage listing.
For this reason, we believed it was important to share this interview as a means of capturing the optimism and ambitions of the moment and with the hope that one day we will return to work on site with our colleagues once again.
Thank you Susan and Ohnmar, for joining me today.
Now Ohnmar, give us a brief picture of the location and history of Bagan.
MYO: Yes, Jim. Bagan Cultural heritage Site is at a bend in the Irrawaddy River, between the hills of Tanjit Town and Turin Town in Central Myanmar. The site is located in Nyaung-U District of Mandalay region and Bacopu District of Magree region.
The property covers fifty square kilometers, and the buffer zone has 180 square kilometers. The landscape covers over 3,600 monuments, along with two towns and over forty villages. And Bagan is an ancient capital city of the first [inaudible] Myanmar, and it responded in 1044 AD. And it went through a major building spree during the 11th to 13th centuries.
And the surviving monuments include stupas, temples, monasteries, ordination halls, palace sites and fortifications, inscriptions, sculptures, murals, and cloth paintings and other associated objects.
The festivals linked to the pagodas and Buddhist holidays are still widely celebrated in Bagan. Pilgrims visit the various temples and pagodas for private prayers and offering. And there are also traditional crafts, like lacquerware have survived till now. And they’re still producing the lacquerware in Bagan.
Although the focus is on the Bagan period, there are even earlier remains from the Neolithic age. And few periods dated back to 2,000 years. There are colonial buildings with vernacular architecture. And we still can see the wonderful temples and mural paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, too.
CUNO: How does the site compare to other similar sites in Myanmar? Is it much bigger? Is it more complex?
MYO: Yes, much more bigger and more complex. And the number of the monuments in Bagan is many, many more than the other sites in Myanmar.
CUNO: So what are the particular conservation challenges of this site?
MYO: One of the critical challenges is of doing research. So we still need to carry out a lot of research on the monuments. For example, how to provide stabilization to the structures impacted by the earthquake, particularly those with various interventions.
We also need to develop better knowledge of the various forms of art found in Bagan. Documentation and conservation of the murals is, of course, priority; but we have no idea how the glazed stoneware were produced. And another thing is the development pressure, which mainly driven by tourism, is ready to swamp the regulations put in place to conserve the monuments.
There are many hotels built on top of archaeology. So uncontrolled tourism infrastructure development might be the biggest threat to Bagan, I think.
CUNO: Now, Susan, tell us how the Getty Conservation Institute got involved in this particular project.
SUSAN MACDONALD: Sure. So as some of the GCI’s longstanding projects in places like China, at Mogao Grottoes, and our work at the tomb of Tutankhamen started to come to a conclusion, we started to think about what some of the outstanding conservation challenges were in different parts of the world relating to site management and conservation, and think a little bit about which regions of the world perhaps were underserved by the type of research that an organization like the Getty can bring.
And we spent a lot of time doing our own research and speaking to our colleagues in organizations like the World Heritage Center, and regional colleagues and partners of the past. We also did a bit of a scan of the World Heritage Center’s sites that had been identified as potentially being at risk, and we looked at some of the sites that were currently being developed, for the World Heritage listing.
And as a result of all of those things, we started to think that Southeast Asia was a place that was of interest to us and that we might bring some benefits to, and where there were partners who were interested in addressing some of the challenges that we particularly interested in. And Bagan, for a number of reasons, started to be a site that we thought had a series of challenges that needed attention on a regional and international scale.
And at that time, the 2016 earthquake hit Bagan, which was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, and it damaged over 400 of the temples. And so a lot of international effort was brought to bear to the recovery of that. But there was issues related to how to respond in the longer term to that earthquake. This wasn’t the first earthquake of Bagan. It’s had a series of earthquakes right through its history.
Bagan also had a number of other specific threats, from macro issues of site management and tourism and planning and development to some more pagoda-specific technical issues related to the conservation of the materials, the seismic issues, wall painting conservation, and so on. The site has in the past had successive waves of conservation, starting in the early twentieth century, when the Archaeological Survey of India was working there, when then Burma was under British rule.
And then after the 1975 earthquake, there was a great deal of international effort to work out how to conserve the site and deal with some of the earthquakes. During the military rule period in Myanmar, there was a large-scale attempt by the military government then to undertake a lot of conservation across the site, and to undertake a lot of work which we would now consider to be heavy handed. And so when the 2016 earthquake hit, a lot of the temples suffered quite badly as a result of some of the inappropriate work, the use of materials such as concrete, and some structural work that had actually caused the monuments to respond not particularly well to the earthquakes. And in fact, it caused additional damage. And there was a lot of damage both to the structures and to the wall paintings and the decorative elements of the site.
So we were already thinking about the site because of it is range of site management challenges. And then on top of that, there were specific issues related to how do you understand the impacts of seismic activity on the region?
And that was something, of course, that was a long-term interest of the GCI specifically. We had done work on seismic issues on historic masonry for many years, and we saw a potential to sort of do a knowledge transfer from that work. So we started to talk about our colleagues in UNESCO who were leading that effort in the post-earthquake recovery, and our colleagues in Myanmar from the Depth of Archaeology and National Museum who, in our discussions with them, repeatedly voiced a concern and a need for international assistance related to capacity building and dealing with this range of challenges.
And we started to visit Bagan at that time and develop our understanding of the site and start to develop our project through our discussions with the Department of Archaeology. And then meanwhile, the site was actually listed on the World Heritage list. And in its listing by the World Heritage Center made a number of specific recommendations to the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, that they were obligated to try and address.
The Department of Archaeology and National Museum saw the Getty might be able to actually help them to address some of the challenges that had been raised and address some of these problems in a strategic way over a particular period. So that was kind of a long answer, but it was a fairly long process and a serious process to think about what are the outstanding international challenges, and where might the Getty have the ability and the knowledge and the resources to be able to support and work with our local partners to address some of those challenges? Both for the site of Bagan, but for— potentially, to be able to advance that knowledge for using on other sites, both in Myanmar and within the region of southeast Asia.
CUNO: So Ohnmar, I suspect that Bagan and Myanmar are full of local authorities with appropriate experience, and had been working on the site for some time. Now to ask you a question related to the answer that Susan gave, what kind of experience were you and your colleagues looking for that you felt you didn’t have locally, that you thought maybe the Getty Conservation Institute had that could be of help to you?
MYO: Well, if I have to say truly, that actually, in Bagan or in Myanmar, we don’t have kind of appropriate experience for working on the site for all kinds of expertise. The major expectation is the internationally standardized practice on conservation, particularly for the earthquake-hit monuments, and the site management, [in] which GCI has strong expertise, I believe.
And we still need to have good governance that focuses not only on the growth, but also the quality. So we actually expect that GCI team can share their knowledge and experience, as well as expertise, to Department of Archaeology and National Museum and local professionals, to have better practice for the conservation of the monuments and conservation of the sites, and also the management of the sites.
CUNO: Susan, how then will the Getty and Myanmar work together to address the various site issues in Bagan? And are there particular protocols for working together that you have to establish at the very beginning, in order to follow those protocols as you go forward?
MACDONALD: Yeah, so in our development of our project with the department, we actually identified six different strands of activities to work on with them. And the first one of those is to deal with the overall site management issues. And that includes working with multiple stakeholders in the Myanmar conservation community and in Bagan, to develop a set of overall guiding principles for conservation in Bagan, and for other sites across Myanmar.
We also recognize that we need to do research and develop seismically appropriate repair techniques. A third strand was to look at improving standards of conservation of the decorative elements across the site. A fourth one was to help develop documentation techniques and information management systems. The next one was to develop a capacity building strategy for conservation teams in Bagan and other sites, through professional education and access to the international community of practice. And then finally, by undertaking a model field professional that brings together many of these aspects in a manageable way.
And each one of these quite ambitious strands or activities is almost like a mini project in itself. And each one of them has its own set of stakeholders. This is very much a partnership with the various Burmese authorities and institutions and communities, and they all need to be equally and actively involved in the work, because our work is only really sustainable if we are working very directly with our local partners and those that are directly responsible for the site ’cause we’re always visitors in these countries and to these sites.
CUNO: So Ohnmar, you were a principal figure in the writing up of the report to get to UNESCO for World Heritage Committee there to confirm the Heritage Site status in Bagan. What was the process like? And how difficult was it? And what is the consequence of having written the report? How does that help you?
MYO: So actually, Myanmar was living alone for about fifty years. We had not been intact with the international organizations like UNESCO and World Heritage Center. And so the World Heritage is very new in Bagan when we were working, like from 2013. So at that time, the people or the authority, as well as the communities feel very awkward to talk about the World Heritage, and they were afraid of living in a World Heritage Site, which had a lot of rules and regulations, and they could not do anything in the site; they thought like that.
But UNESCO itself, and also the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, the people from, like the intellectual people from, like, association of the architects and Myanmar engineering society in Yangon and Mandalay Technical University, we worked together to have a more public education, to understand about the status of the World Heritage. And then what are the benefits of living in a Heritage site, as well.
And then we have to make sure that everyone needs to work together to protect Bagan, without only thinking how to exploit the site. To achieve this, procedures need to be established and followed. So we have started to establish some procedures not to have ad hoc decisions be taken by the authorities, because as you know, Myanmar is a new democratic country, and we have still the mix of kind of power using and this democratic way of working. So it is also very important for the authorities not to decide solely on its own. The decisions must be taken based on the criteria and the process, and we can follow the process. So we are still working on it till now, although we have got the World Heritage.
Because we got the World Heritage for Bagan because Bagan is actually a splendid site. You can imagine in only in this, like, fifty square kilometers, they have more than 3,000 monuments. And then all the monuments have different styles and different architecture.
So actually, we still need to establish the process which can support Bagan for the sustainability. And I do believe that GCI can contribute technical expertise to set up those procedures requires in Bagan.
CUNO: Now Susan, on the website for the project, you say that you’ll be undertaking modeling and testing on a representative building for each typology to understand the issues the particular building type has. Why is that the right methodology of addressing the issues of Bagan? And could you tell us something about that process?
MACDONALD: Yes, sure. And this actually refers to the area of work that we’re doing to deal with the issue of how do you seismically repair these monuments in ways that helps it resist earthquakes in the future. Because the site is so big, in that there are over 3,600 temples and stupas and monasteries, we had to work out how do we identify methods and approaches to dealing with all of the monuments across the site, rather than sort of dealing with just one monument or a few monuments.
We wanted to sort of tackle this is quite a strategic way. So we actually realized that our work that we were undertaking in Peru on seismic retrofitting methodologies for earthen architecture might be appropriate here. Of course, they’re very, very different buildings that we’re dealing with. And the materials are very different and the construction methods are very different.
But at its core, the problem is fundamentally the same. You know, how do you improve the performance of an individual building which is made of unreinforced masonry?
So we worked with the engineers in Bagan and some other international experts in seismic retrofitting of historic buildings, and engineers in Bagan who’d been dealing with the issues in the post-earthquake. And we brought them together to sort of test this theory. Is this knowledge that could be transferred to a very different type of site?
And the outcome of that was to recognize that this approach or methodology actually was equally applicable here in Bagan. So then we worked with all the engineers and the other professionals in Bagan and Myanmar to see if we could identify different structural typologies, different monuments that behaved in the same way, and sort of chunk this down into manageable types, and then identify a represent monument for each one of these structural typologies, so that we could study an individual monument and understand how it’s built, what the materials were, and how it behaves in an earthquake.
Because if you can actually understand that for each typology, you can then work out how to repair them and seismically reinforce them in a way that actually is appropriate and sensitive to its particular significance as a historic monument.
So we were really excited that this methodology actually was one that would be able to advance understanding of how to deal with and how to conserve these monuments across the site of Bagan but other monuments that you find in other places of Myanmar.
CUNO: Now, you’ve chosen a temple, Myin-Pya-Gu, as a model field project. Why did you choose that particular temple, and what will you do with it?
MACDONALD: Well, we chose Myin-Pya-Gu for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was representative of one of these four typologies, of monument typologies that we came up with. So it became one of our prototype buildings.
Myin-Pya-Gu, too, is a really extraordinary temple. It’s quite early. It’s an eleventh century temple. It’s quite intact. It hasn’t had a lot of damage. It’s had some damage in previous earthquakes, and it’s had a series of waves of internal decoration. But it’s got very beautiful decorative elements internally. It’s got quite extensive wall paintings, it’s got very beautiful sculptures inside it, and it’s even got some timber elements, which is quite unusual.
So it provides a really wonderful site for us to investigate and research further, to understand the materials that are used in this particular temple and across Bagan. But Myin-Pya-Gu also sits in its own small cultural landscape, which is representative of the much bigger cultural landscape that is Bagan. It sits within a cluster of other temples. It’s surrounded by agricultural land. It sits quite near the road.
So, you know, we’ll step through all the different conservation phases. So right now, we’re at the phase of work where we’re understanding the history of the building, of the temple, and we’re documenting the temple at the moment. The team’s been working with the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, to train them how to undertake the usual documentation and reporting techniques.
And then what we’ll do is we will start to build up a picture of what’s important about this place and what aspects of the physical fabric are most important. So if you like, the site becomes a bit of a laboratory for understanding the problems, but also working through all the processes that we as conservation practitioners go through to learn about places, what the risks to them are, and then start to develop approaches to their conservation and deal with these complex issues.
Both technical challenges, but also the sort of management issues, issues of visitation. And then other ways: how do you mitigate the other threats that affect both this temple— Traffic, parking, how to interpret the site so visitors can understand what’s important about it, and all those sorts of things.
And then finally, it provides us the opportunity to model the various techniques and approaches to conservation, when we get to that stage of the work, on a live project, if you like.
CUNO: Well Ohnmar, a project like this involves not only the local authorities there at Bagan, but also the national authorities in Myanmar as well as the foreign authorities, in the case of this one, the Getty Conservation Institute. How is it possible for someone like you to work in this complicated arena, where you’ve got three different interesting parties all coming together on a project, having to come to some agreement about how to proceed in the development of these modeling projects?
MYO: Well, yes. Actually, Getty Conservation Institute has a good impression by the national authorities in Myanmar. So at the national level, they already know about the Getty Conservation Institute, so that they don’t have much problems. But for the local ones, because they have only a few knowledge about the international organizations. So then I had to explain, well, about what Getty is.
And I also suggested Susan to, in the first meetings with the local authorities, to explain about what Getty is and what GCI is doing and what are the strengths of the GCI and what are the experience[s] in other parts of the world, outside Myanmar, and what they have been doing. So Susan keeps doing that kind of presentations to the authorities quite often, so that they are getting more realized about what GCI is.
So it is like a lab. Myin-Pya-Gu is used as a lab. And the Myanmar people are very glad to have Getty in Bagan. So we have a lot of expectation from GCI for next ten, ten, ten years.
CUNO: So you say ten years. It’s gonna be a long time. So you have one project that you’ve identified, this particular temple, as a kind of model that you can use to understand the context of Myanmar and of Bagan. Susan, how many prototypes will you have? And will they each be different one from another?
MACDONALD: Yes. So the idea of having representative buildings, if you like, or monuments, monuments that represent each of the different sort of structural typologies, was really a way of making sure that the techniques that we developed for repair and seismic retrofit specifically could be applied across the whole site, across the range of different building types that there were.
We identified, with our partners and the local engineers and architects, we identified four different prototype buildings. So we’ll be doing research on each one of these. What are these buildings made of? How are they constructed? How do they behave over the long term? How do they respond to earthquakes? And then the last part of that is to develop, well then how do you go about and repair each one of these prototypes?
The aim of the work of that particular part of the work is to actually be able to develop a sort of repair methodology and approach specific to each prototype, that could then be used for any one of those prototypes. Every time the department comes to repair one of those buildings, they’ve got a set of guidelines or recommendations on how best to intervene on that building that will stand it in good stead for future earthquakes, and recognizes its particular characteristics, in terms of how it was built and what’s important about it and how we should go about repairing it.
And on top of that sort of technical repair thing, of course, each monument will have another layer of consideration, which depends on is it an active temple that’s used for daily worship, for example. Or is it a temple that has wall paintings or doesn’t have all paintings? Or there are a variety of other sort of overlaid challenges for each temple that it has to be dealt with. But at least we’ve got some fundamental approaches to how technically to go about just doing the sort of base technical repair. And then these other considerations that we have to think about in conservation get overlaid on top of it.
CUNO: I’m interested in the difficulty of identifying a few particular buildings that are going to represent the needs over the entire site. And especially when some of them are living temples where the people, as you say, are practicing worship there. How is it that you negotiate these kinds of human conflicts in the preparation and the work on the buildings?
MACDONALD: I think that the work that the Getty is doing is operating at a couple of very different levels. We’re very much working from the bottom, the group up, by understanding individual buildings, what they’re made of, how they work technically, whether they have wall paintings, what the materials are that are used to make these temples, and then how they behave over time and how they decay and therefore, how we could conserve them.
But we’re also very much working on the macro level, by looking at these much larger challenges that sit across the site, such as pressure for development and tourism and management. And then also, there’s this very interesting challenge in a place like Bagan. One of the reasons the site was listed on the World Heritage list was because it’s a living site. That means that people are worshipping and using these temples to practice religious worship.
And there are specific religious beliefs that need to be taken into account. And so because the site had some traditions of what’s called merit making—and I think Ohnmar Myo should explain what that means—retaining those cultural practices is really important to the site. And the cultural practices that go with it is equally important to dealing with the technical issues. And sometimes there are challenges between those two things that need to be considered.
So the significance might rely in the physical fabric; but it also might reside in the spiritual practices that are undertaken on the site broadly—festivals, acts of worship, and the ways that the people need to be able to access and visit and practice across the site more generally and individually on the temples.
MYO: If you may allow me to add some more points about this merit making things, actually, merit making is the most significant characteristic of Bagan, so that we can’t avoid people doing merit making till now. So merit making means that everything doing good is merit making fundamentally. But merit making at the pagodas means that they want to clean the pagoda, they want to change the old bricks with the new bricks.
Or they want to put the gold leaves on the stupa, like that. So well, so some of the merit making is controversial for the conservation of the ancient monuments, to tell the truth. But we cannot say that kind of merit making will be banned in Bagan, because Bagan is still a living site. So in terms of conservation, when we were working for the nomination to see for the World Heritage status, we have divided two groups of the temples, of the monuments, with active monuments and inactive monuments.
So active monuments means they are still active with a lot of pilgrims, the visitors, and they are making all kinds of these rituals and worshipping things and doing festivals. So there are, like, fourteen monuments which are still very active for the merit making. So that these are the active monuments. And then we allow the people, the worshippers, the pilgrims to do some kind of merit making things there.
But the other inactive monuments, which means that these monuments are from ancient period, and then they are still treating[sic] like the ancient monuments and they don’t have any festivals or any rituals. Then all these inactive monuments must be conserved, like the ancient monuments and by[?] conservation protocols will be stricter than the active monuments.
CUNO: Now, you’re doing all of this work, this good work and difficult work, in the midst of a global pandemic. What is the impact of COVID-19 on your project?
MYO: Well, no tourism, less impact to the site. This is one good thing. But no conservation project activities in the site. No research or no conservation work has been carried out. Or the capacity building, trainings for the Department of Archaeology staff are pending. All these things are very bad. So well, we still have positive hope to resume the work in Bagan in this year, as soon as the pandemic is over, once the people got vaccinated, I’m positive.
CUNO: Yeah. Now Susan, when was the last time that you were there, or anyone from the Getty was at Bagan?
MACDONALD: We were last there in January 2020. We were starting to see the beginnings of the impact of COVID when we were there, actually.
So for us, of course, we can’t travel at this time. However, we’ve taken this last year to give us a moment to really sort of stop and think a lot more deeply about the work and the project, because we’d been working pretty quickly and had a certain amount of momentum. And it’s an extraordinary site with some very complex issues, and we’re very new to it.
We’ve spent the year doing a lot of quiet, in-depth planning work and investigation and really understanding some of these challenges in a more detailed way. And we’ve really tried to retain our connection with our colleagues in the field there. And we’ve done that in some areas better than others. I think the team who’s been working on the documentation area and the seismic retrofitting area have actually been able to sort of over the course of year, develop their relationship, bizarrely enough, through Zoom and had a much closer ongoing day-to-day working relationship than we perhaps might’ve usually had. It’s sort of been forced by Zoom. And even though the team from Bagan, of engineers, and the team from Yangon Technical University and our team couldn’t go to Madras—they were meant to go to the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in September to get together to look at the current modeling work that they’d been doing for the monuments. They couldn’t do that, obviously.
They organized it over a sort of two-week Zoom workshop, if you like, where every night for us, but early morning for others they spent on the phone, working through this issue with these different groups from Yangon and from Bagan and from India. And our team on the ground has continued to do a lot of the documentation work that we started to do with them on the different prototypes back in January.
And our engineers have been working away and in constant contact with one of the other teams from Yangon, as I said, the team from India, and our team. So you know, it’s a different way of working and it’s not ideal. But, as I said, I think it’s given us an opportunity to think and reflect in a lot more detail about a number of aspects of the work, actually.
CUNO: Ohnmar, what’s next for Bagan?
MYO: Well, as everyone knows that this is a complex site and we have a lot of things to do. But I think the GCI and the Department of Archaeology or DOA and when we resume the project and we can start with the trainings for the DOA staff, because the training is really very good for the capacity building for the DOA staff. Not only for the engineers; also the architects, and also for the other staff, like from the research and training departments.
And because Getty conducted the trainings not only with one expert or two, they have collected the many experts from the many backgrounds. And all are, like, the very highly intellectual people, so that they give the trainings a very good training.
And then they start from the beginning of the values of the site, so that the trainees have understood about the site more. So I think that we should resume the trainings in Bagan.
CUNO: And Susan, from your perspective, what’s next for the Getty at Bagan?
MACDONALD: Well, for us, what’s next is to complete development of our overarching strategy and our planning for the different projects or the different activities that we’re undertaking. So we’re planning to do that over the next few months, and then continue our discussions with the Department of Archaeology and National Museum about that.
So by the time we go back to site, we’re ready to really advance these different strands or activities of the project. We’re continuing to do some of our work remotely, as I said, related to the research on the seismic resistivity work. We’re undertaking research about the wall paintings and the history of the wall paintings and the materials and of the site more generally.
And we’re continuing to develop our training and capacity-building strategies in a lot more detail.
CUNO: You talked about training. How is that developed?
MACDONALD: Well, we’re still really developing our overarching, what we’ve called our capacity-development strategy for the site, over this last year. This was something that was really important to the Department of Archaeology right from the beginning. They said to us, “The Getty is an organization that we recognize can bring specific knowledge and skills and a real commitment to training. And it’s something that we’re really interested in you working on that with us.” And they felt that they needed training.
So we started by wanting to build on the work that had already been undertaken by UNESCO on training, and we undertook a needs assessment for both Bagan and Myanmar. And we spoke to many other[s] in the region who’d been working in Bagan in the past, and of course, our partner, to develop this strategy. And we did some workshops where we pulled all the staff in Bagan together, and we asked them what they felt like they needed and what would be most helpful.
And then from that, we started to develop this larger, more ambitious capacity-development strategy, if you like. Initially, we called it a training strategy, and we had a list of training activities that we thought we were going to deliver. But then we recognized, actually, we needed to be a lot more ambitious. And we needed to do things like to think about what educational opportunities need to be provided to professionals in Bagan, and Myanmar more generally, because they haven’t got specific master’s degrees and educational opportunities in conservation in Myanmar.
So what educational needs were they[sic] for graduates and postgraduate study about conservation, and how could we support that? And then we identified specific training needs that we could deliver through courses with us and in partnership with the archaeological training center that they have in Myanmar already. And then where might we be able to partner with others to develop training?
And then also, what are the other professional opportunities that might be able to be provided to our colleagues in Bagan? Are there international conferences that they would really benefit from contributing to and attending? And as many of the international conferences this year have been online, we’ve had the group of wall paintings conservators who participated in the IIC, or the International Institute of Conservation’s international conference this year, and were able to attend that.
So we’re still developing this ten-year capacity-development strategy at the moment. So it’s a long-term commitment to all sorts of different capacity-development activities and training. And we don’t need to wait to be able to go back onsite to start to initiate some of these activities. And this is something that I think is very much core to the GCI’s work, this commitment to capacity development. And it’s absolutely core to all the activities that we’re doing on the site, and as a separate activity in its own right.
CUNO: Well, thank you. Thank you both for your time on this podcast episode. The project is extraordinary, and the partnership between Getty and Bagan is a model for other similar projects, so thank you for speaking with me.
MYO: Thank you, Jim, for your interest.
MACDONALD: Thank you, Jim.
CUNO: This episode was produced by Zoe Goldman, with audio production by Gideon Brower and mixing by Mike Dodge Weiskopf. Our theme music comes from the “The Dharma at Big Sur” composed by John Adams, for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003, and is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms. For photos, transcripts, and more resources, visit or if you have a question, or an idea for an upcoming episode, write to us at Thanks for listening.

JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
OHNMAR MYO: Bagan is actually a splendid site. You can imagine in only in this, like, fifty square k...

Music Credits
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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