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BHSA: Crafting the Next Generation of Preservationists 

12-09-2015 17:35

The Brooklyn High School of the Arts (BHSA), in Brooklyn, N.Y., is the first high school in the country to integrate historic preservation into its academic and vocational curriculum. Established in response to the 1993 World Monuments Fund symposium examining restoration employment strategies, the program’s Preservation Arts Internship Program combines hands-on experience with class-room work. New York City, alone, has more than 1,024 landmarks and 78 historic districts comprising over 23,000 buildings, indicating a sustained need for skilled craftspeople. To address this need, New Jersey Institute of Technology/Center for Architecture and Building Science Research (NJIT/CABSR), the New York City Board of Education (BOE), the World Monuments Fund, and former NYC Councilmember Ken Fisher collaborated to create a high school for preservation arts training to benefit inner-city youth and the built environment. To identify suitable summer internship providers, CABSR tapped New York’s extensive network of preservation organizations, Columbia University’s preservation alumni, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Restoration Directory listing preservationists, artisans, architects, conservators, and engineers.

Each stakeholder had questions to be addressed and needs to be met. The businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies were concerned about liability issues, what the interns could do, how much supervision they would need, and what administrative support would be provided. Students asked what they’d be paid. A. Ottavino Corporation, a 90-year-old stoneworks in Queens, pioneered the six-week summer program with CABSR, the NYC Board of Education, and the World Monuments Fund working with students from the High School of Graphic Arts in Manhattan and the High School for Arts and Business in Corona, Queens. Through a grant from the New York Community Trust/ Landmarks Conservancy Foundation, CABSR worked with industry sponsors and city agencies to develop sample job descriptions and the parameters for running and assessing the internship program.

Today the internship program is sponsored by the city’s Youth Employment Program (YEP) and offers mini-mum wage pay and workers compensation insurance. Students work a four-day 24-hour week. Eleven internship opportunities were offered in 2001, double that number in 2002. A BHSA internship director was hired in 2002 to monitor, document, and assess the progress of the interns and coordinate paperwork for the YEP program and the providers. At the end of the first sum-mer program, participants and supporters convened to share mentor/intern experiences and present the products they created over the summer, including drawings, stone carvings, stained glass pieces, etc. To date, both internship providers and interns have unanimously expressed interest in future participation. BHSA students enrolled in the four-year preservation arts program are encouraged to pursue higher education or artisan apprenticeships within the preservation field. Ninth and tenth graders focus on research, surveying, documentation, design, and materials, and are helped to select an area of specialty. Eleventh and twelfth graders study tectonics and pursue artisan and professional internships that reflect their personal career goals.

In June 2002 BHSA forged a new alliance with the State University of New York’s (SUNY) Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to offer a two-year associate degree leading to a bachelor of fine arts in objects conservation. As an added benefit, scholarship funds will be available to BHSA graduates with Career Technical Education (CTE) endorsement in Preservation Arts Technology (PAT) on their diplomas. In June 2002 the Municipal Art Society of New York awarded the BHSA a certificate of merit for "the opportunity BHSA gives students to work and learn under the guidance of experts, using the entire city as their classroom." Creating the next generation of preservationists is a challenge worth meeting, getting to know them is a privilege worth having.

Publication Date: November/December 2002


Author(s):Kate Burns Ottavino

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