Forum Webinar: What is Our ‘New Normal” Like

By Forum Online posted 07-10-2020 11:24


On June 17, 2020, Preservation Leadership Forum held a webinar examining the economic and longer-term impacts of the pandemic across a variety of communities. The recording for the webinar is now available in the Forum Library.

Credit: Neal Santos


Cultural institutions, historic sites, Main Street commercial districts and the small businesses they support, have all experienced severe economic impacts from the pandemic through job losses and business closures. In addition, communities face longer-term impacts like loss of community vibrancy. Especially vulnerable are legacy businesses and businesses in communities of color which have been devastated by coronavirus-related closures and the economic downturn. This webinar explored the role of Main Street, business owners and entrepreneurs, historic sites, cultural institutions and heritage travel as communities recover from the pandemic.

  • Matt Wagner, Main Street America
  • Denise Gilmore, City of Birmingham
  • Annie Levinsky, Historic Denver
  • Amy Webb, National Trust for Historic Preservation

In addition to the recording we had a few questions that we weren’t able to get to during the discussion. Below are responses from our speakers.
Have you noticed any interest by local government to repurpose historic property currently housing social /nonprofit /cultural organizations to a for-profit earning scenario (ex. rental or sell of property in order to fill anticipated governmental budget gaps)?

While we aren’t aware of any specific interest by local government to repurpose historic properties to a for-profit scenario due to the pandemic, it is conceivable that these kinds of difficult debates are starting to play out in some instances. As it’s not a decision that anyone would make lightly and may be too soon to know about some of the long-term impacts, we may learn more about whether this is a possibility in the future. . The issue of the sustainability of historic sites as interpretive museums has been a challenging one for a number of years as many site were already, and struggling before the pandemic. Donna Ann Harris’ 2007 book, New Solutions for House Museums: Ensuring the Long Term Preservation of America’s Historic Houses is a good resource and suggests that some historic sites might need to rethink their use as a house museum in order to achieve their primary goal of preserving and maintaining these sites. There are, of course, a host of legal and ethical considerations when considering a change of use such as this.

In finding new ways to ignite connection what is the new normal for meeting financial goals?

We understand the concern surrounding lost revenue, especially from in-person experiences.

Many organizations are looking at creative ways to monetize virtual programming and events. For example, one organization that was planning for in-person midcentury modern event pivoted to a virtual event, but continued to sell tickets at the same price and beefed up their online content dramatically, including 360/Virtual 3D virtual tours and deeper content in their digital magazine.

Institutions should consider this year as an experiment this and an opportunity to test options and learn for future programming. For example, some may optimistically assume an in-person event but also consider virtual options for individuals with geographic and/or ADA access issues at a lower price point.


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