Interview with New US/ICOMOS Executive Director Andrew Potts

By Special Contributor posted 05-05-2015 16:01


By Elizabeth Byrd Wood

Image via Bohol Restoration Group.

Many Forum members might be familiar with Andrew Potts’ work as a tax guy. He knows real estate tax law inside and out. He has spoken and written extensively on the federal rehabilitation tax credit and is an expert on preservation finance. In fact, it was his interest in historic rehabilitation tax credits that first led him to his current position as the new executive director of US/ICOMOS.

Several years ago, when Potts was working as an attorney for the law firm of Nixon Peabody in Washington, D.C., he got the idea to organize a seminar that focused on the various historic preservation tax incentives found in other countries. This led him to join US/ICOMOS, become involved in one of the organization’s Scientific Committees, and eventually serve on the organization’s board. This past February he began a two-year leave-of-absence from Nixon Peabody to take the reins of US/ICOMOS.

Although US/ICOMOS has its office in Dupont Circle’s ornate Victorian Heurich House Museum, Potts will not be spending much time in D.C. He has trips planned this year to India, Korea, Japan, Germany and Poland. In Poland he will be honoring the work of Robert Garvey and other Americans who helped found ICOMOS 50 years ago this year. The UNESCO World Heritage program is a major US/ICOMOS focus and the meeting in Germany will decide if the Missions of San Antonio, Texas, will become the world’s 1008th World Heritage Site. Other meetings will address heritage as a pillar of sustainable development, cultural landscape practice and heritage law. The personal touch is important to Potts. While he recognizes the benefits of virtual connections, he says there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with his colleagues around the world.

Potts considers US/ICOMOS to be a natural home for preservation professionals and a valuable forum for heritage experts. In his new position he wants to find ways for Americans to learn from their international counterparts. “I really want to catalyze American historic preservation professionals to pursue opportunities abroad,” he says. But he also wants preservationists in other countries to have access to new scholarship and innovative programming from American preservationists.

Potts is especially enthusiastic about a new US/ICOMOS program called Pathways to Diversity. The program will help individuals working in U.S. communities whose heritage draws context and meaning from places outside the country to gain access to international research, resources and experts on those places. The program will launch in Washington, D.C., in November immediately following the PastForward preservation conference (November 3–5) and will bring together those working in Mexican-American heritage areas with cultural heritage officials from Mexico.

Every year, countries around the world celebrate International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18th with special events and programming. Also called World Heritage Day in some countries, this is “a day for celebrating and transmitting the value of preservation and our cultural heritage,” Potts says.

Working with US World Heritage sites like Louisiana’s Poverty Point and Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea, US/ICOMOS helped organize celebratory events around the country. Potts notes, however, that this year’s celebration was tinged with melancholy because of the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. Preservationists in the United States can take action against the destruction and looting of heritage sites, according to Potts. He encourages people to support new legislation that penalizes the purchase of looted objects from Syria. He also wants preservationists to urge their elected officials in D.C. to support funding for UNESCO and a waiver from the law prohibiting payment of dues to UNESCO. “This policy,” Potts says, “is choking off the functionality of the organization that most needs support.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of US/ICOMOS. Potts explains that it is not just coincidence that next year is also the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. When early leaders of the preservation movement were developing its founding federal legislation and writing the report With Heritage So Rich, they traveled abroad to study what other national preservation programs looked like, he says. These early efforts to learn from and collaborate with international programs set the stage for the founding of US/ICOMOS in 1965.

These 50-year milestones for the preservation movement are providing a time for reflection, but more importantly a time to move forward. Potts is enthusiastic about the new opportunities ahead for his organization and the chance to work more closely with his colleagues from around the world. Find out more about US/ICOMOS and its programs.

Elizabeth Byrd Wood is senior content manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#US/ICOMOS #Announcements #Legal #International

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