We asked members of the Preservation50 team who attended the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PastForward conference in Washington DC from November 3-6 2015 to write a blog about a session that they felt corresponded to the Mission and Goals of P50 or to our Leverage Lessons Learned Topics.

The below is a blog by P50 Management Team member Lucy Matthews on session The Future Becomes Us which took place on November 6, 2015 from 9:45-11:00am ET. 

During the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PastForward conference 2015 in Washington, DC at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, P50 Management Team director Greg Werkheiser participated on a panel for the session ‘Learning Lab: The Future Becomes Us’. The purpose of the panel was to discuss conversations that have been occurring throughout the nation regarding the future of preservation.

Moderator Tom Mayes from the National Trust for Historic Preservation opened the session, and said, “I’m delighted to have this group of people here together to talk about the future. We’ve been talking about the future throughout the conference, we’ll be talking about it for the next year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NHPA.” He explained that the panelists consist of those who have been taking part in recent discussions about the future of the field.

Speakers included:

  • Greg Werkheiser, P50 Management Team and Cultural Heritage Partners
  • Randy Mason, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jamie Kalven, The Invisible Institute
  • Jana Shafagoj, Morven Park Preservation Forum
  • Doug Gasek, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota
  • Fred Bland, Fitch Foundation

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Photo courtesy of author

Each speaker was introduced and was asked to provide a quick overview of what their convening around the future of preservation was and what came out of their discussions.

The session was lively and focused on current discourses within the field of preservation. Topic and themes mentioned included:

  • Preservation as issue-driven
    • The ways preservation can be contemporary and linked to issues like inequity, social justice and more
    • Responsibility to preserve diverse places / to represent underrepresented communities and absences
  • Preservation as a common cause
    • A shift to thinking of preservation of places and not just the built environment (thus focusing on the people and not just the structure)
    • Connecting the public with historic places / greater focus on everyday preservationists (those that fix the roofs of their homes etc.)
    • Leadership development for the next generation
    • The importance of women to the early and throughout the history of the preservation movement
  • Preservation as a brand
    • The isolation of preservation and views of preservation as elitist / narrow
    • How preservation has become mainstream even though difficulties remain (being mainstream can make the field a target)
  • Preservation as a term
    • Is preservation a field? A movement?
    • How do we define preservation?
    • What are the values of preservation?
    • What should our mission statement be?
    • Discomfort with the word preservation. Should another term encapsulate the movement? Heritage conservation?
  • Preservation as a practice
    • Complexity of preservation (one size does not fit all)
    • Preservation often thought of as local but much determined at national level
    • Avoiding a “culture of no”
    • What does authenticity mean in preservation?

As evidenced by the list above, the topics discussed where far-ranging and covered a gamut of the important conversations occuring around preservation. Many of the topics could also fit under more than one heading above.

In his closing statement, Greg Werkheiser of the P50 Management Team emphasized the importance of more creative collaboration. The 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, as embodied in Preservation50, presents an ideal opportunity to do just that. Preservation50’s first goal as listed on www.preservation50.org/about/mission is to build a strong coalition of partners to power a more effective national preservation movement into the future. And as Tom Mayes said, “That’s a great way to end the panel!”

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Photo courtesy of author