Over the past few weeks, we’ve been providing our annual PastForward reading lists—curated selections of reports, articles, and videos to prep you for our annual conference. We hope that they’ll spark discussions come November 15–18, when PastForward arrives in Houston, Texas. Register now!
At this year’s PastForward conference, the preservationPLACES theme will explore how the preservation movement can drive interest in historic places; highlight their significance; and make them important, relevant community resources. We will hear about the role historic sites play in deepening our understanding of our painful pasts and about how interpretive plans can address—and have addressed—deliberately obliterated or ignored sites. This track will also investigate efforts undertaken during the last decade to place U.S. historic sites on the World Heritage Site List. Attendees will also examine new strategies for protecting intangible heritage assets, such as music, language, performing arts, festive events, and other cultural traditions.
The TrustLive speaker for this theme will be Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Arts & History, author of The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance, and talented blogger. Simon released The Participatory Museum as a free online book, and a few chapters of The Art of Relevance are also online. Simon recently gave us a preview of what she’ll be discussing during her presentation at PastForward.
Strategies for Activating and Enlivening Historic Sites
Some historic places and sites have been integrating contemporary art in an effort emphasize their relevance, attract new audiences, and reengage existing ones. And since many artists draw inspiration directly from historic spaces, their collections, and historical landscapes, such collaborations can be unique, dynamic and vibrant.
Since May of this year, The Glass House, a National Trust Historic Site, has been hosting Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist whose art Philip Johnson revered and collected. In an interview with the National Trust, Irene Shum, The Glass House’s curator and collections manager, explains how the installations by Kusama came to pass, what the collaboration between the artist and her gallery was like, and how important such exhibitions are to the history and legacy of Philip Johnson.
In spring 2015 artist Patrick Dougherty worked with a group of volunteers to create an architectural sculpture—originally called “Stickwork” and later named “What the Birds Know”—on the lawn of the historic Crowninshield-Bentley House, a Massachusetts site operated by the Peabody Essex Museum. Hear from Dougherty about his background and the process of this site installation:
In the spring 2016 issue of the Forum Journal, Howard Zar, executive director of Lyndhurst, explains how the tradition of “honor[ing] the narrow period of significance defined by its architect and most prominent owner” was reevaluated at Lyndhurst and how the site’s interpretation was expanded to recognize the importance of its landscape and the diversity of its many stories.
In the same issue of Forum Journal, Katherine Malone-France, the National Trust’s vice president of historic sites, interviews Jorge Otero-Pailos—preservation architect, artist, professor and director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program. Otero-Pailos discusses his The Ethics of Dust installations, which helped him discover “that a building’s narrative is never complete” and explore the potential of preservation art to enliven historic places. In a recent article called Experimental Preservation and written for the Places journal, Otero-Pailos continues to explore how experimental approaches toward the interpretation of historical site significance are taking the place of the traditional bureaucratic governmental system for the protection of historic sites.
In Why Should We Preserve Artist Studios, art historian Ellen C. Cadwell argues that the creative and inspirational aspects of artists’ studios and homes make them worthy of preservation. Similarly, Karen Zukowski, writing for the Historic Artists’ & Home Studios (HAHS) portal, uses several HAHS sites to demonstrate that artists practice creative preservation at their own studios and homes by breathing “new life into structures and landscapes that faced decay and death.”
While a significant number of historic sites have effectively interpreted the many layers of their difficult pasts, some are still facing challenges in telling often painful narratives in sensitive and informed ways. There are many examples, however, of sites spotlighting untold and challenging stories to help promote healing and reconciliation.
Sean Kelley, senior vice president and director of interpretation at Eastern State Penitentiary, writes in the Center for the Museum Future blog about the penitentiary’s new exhibit, “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarcerations,” which focuses on the risks and injustices of mass incarceration in America. He details how, in the process of creating the exhibit, his staff developed an empathetic focus and “united around a statement: ‘MASS INCARCERATION ISN’T WORKING.’”
On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the 9/11 Memorial Museum partnered with Google Expeditions to enable students around the world to experience the museum through virtual reality content. In Google Expedition of 9/11 Memorial Museum Helps Students to ‘Never Forget,’ emergency management teacher Sal Puglisi talks about his personal experience of 9/11 and his work teaching others about the day’s events. Writing for Gothamist, Julia Glum explores the New York City Department of Education’s presentation of the 9/11 narrative to students, aimed at helping them understand how the attacks shaped the world they live in and the lives of those who experienced them—a daunting task, considering that today’s school children have no direct concept of the impacts of 9/11.
The next generation of preservationists is pursuing an integrated approach that unifies complex, intangible elements of culture like art, language, traditions, customs, and physical historic resources and sites. The intangible cultural heritage assets of many communities have become the recent focus of preservation efforts because they face threats from climate change, overdevelopment, and gentrification.
In a special Historic Preservation and Planning issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, Donna Graves and James Michael Buckley summarized several years of their research on cultural preservation efforts in San Francisco in their article, “Tangible Benefits From Intangible Resources: Using Social and Cultural History to Plan Neighborhood Futures” (available through researchgate.net portal). As the analysis in an American Planning Association blog post details, rather than focusing solely on historic sites and structures, Graves and Buckley emphasize the importance of preserving the intangible heritage of diverse ethnic, minority, and social communities and cultures.
In a 2013 International Journal of Intangible Heritage article, Ned Kaufman, author of Place, Race, and Story: Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation, argues for collapsing the division between tangible and intangible heritage. Per Kaufman, tangible places derive their significance from intangible historical cultural values, so the two cannot and should not be separated. He also calls for effective policies that recognize the many culturally significant places that are worthy of preservation but are also local, modest, and not readily attractive to tourists.
The International Journal of Intangible Heritage is the first international academic journal in the field of intangible heritage studies. We recommend perusing all 10 volumes published to date.
Many studies have demonstrated the positive community and socio-economic impacts of World Heritage Site designation, and over the past 10 years, U.S. cultural heritage professionals have been working diligently to expand the number of World Heritage Sites in the United States. The Department of the Interior has been working with its partners to revise the 2008 U.S. Tentative List, aiming to provide an updated list of recommendations by the end of 2016. In March US/ICOMOS published the World Heritage Gap Study Report to help guide future U.S. nominations.
One recent nomination is the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks site in Ohio. Learn more about this 2,000-year-old landscape:
In 2014 the Poverty Point State Historical Site in northern Louisiana was inscribed on the World Heritage Site list. Last year Dr. Diana Greenlee, who led the effort to prepare Poverty Point’s World Heritage Site nomination, published Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City in partnership with photographer Jenny Ellerbe.
In summer 2015 the San Antonio Missions joined the World Heritage Sites. Bruce MacDougal, former executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society, has described the process in detail for the Forum Blog.
Resources From Forum (Open to All)
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