Historic house museums and historic sites throughout the United States provide public benefit in uniqueand varied ways. They preserve significant buildings, landscapes and objects for the future; educate the public about the history of the United States; commemorate historic events and significant historic figures; provide places of beauty, respite, and rejuvenation; and sustain communities by furnishing gathering spaces and reinforcing a shared identity. At these institutions, the historic buildings or landscapes are often the primary artifacts preserved, maintained, and interpreted for the public. Many sites also house significant collections of historic objects, such as paintings, sculpture, furniture and other decorative arts that are similarly preserved, maintained and interpreted for the public.
Acknowledging this reality, historic sites have begun to broaden their definition of museum collections to include historic buildings and landscapes. Yet questions remain about this approach and about whether the same ethical standards applicable to collections objects should be applied to a historic site’s buildings and grounds. The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States examined the issues presented by the inclusion of historic buildings and landscapes in an organization’s museum collections, and determined that historic buildings and landscapes may be treated as museum collections as long as they are held for public benefit and interpreted to the public because of their historic, architectural or other cultural value. The guidance in this statement is intended to assist other organizations in charting their way through this issue.
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The Preservation Leadership Forum of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is a network of preservation leaders — professionals, students, volunteers, activists, experts — who share the latest ideas, information, and advice, and have access to in-depth preservation resources and training.
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