Archive for category Preservation Maryland Op-Ed
It’s hard to believe, but today is my last day at Preservation Maryland. On Monday, I will begin my new position as the Coordinator of Stakeholder and Internal Communications at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I am very excited for this new opportunity and to get a chance to work with the wonderful people at the National Trust.
I will, however, be sad to leave the amazing people and programs here at Preservation Maryland. I have been at Preservation Maryland now nearly five years and those five years have been full of wonderful experiences. The truly inspiring preservation efforts on display all across Maryland and the pride and passion Maryland preservationists of all stripes put into their work is something I will take with me for the rest of my life.
The past several months here have been particularly exciting with the release of the 2012 Endangered Maryland list. (It’s time to get in a nomination for the 2013 list, by the way.) I love this project and will be eagerly looking for the release of the list in Maryland Life’s March/April issue.
The last few months also saw the first ever Restoration & Renovation Fair, a new program that brought 250 homeowners together to share best practices and make new connections. It also was a first introduction to Preservation Maryland for 125 of our attendees.
I also have loved seeing the growth of Preservation Maryland in the online community and see our following grow and spread. These projects exemplify what I will miss most about my time here. Each of them require a wonderful team, strong collaboration, and sharing the preservation message to new audiences.
Thank you all for making my time here at Preservation Maryland truly special!
Every four years, people say to me, “I’m not the least interested in the Olympics.” And, yet almost everywhere I’ve been in the last 10 days, the Olympics have replaced the heat or the drought as the number one topic. It’s strangely unifying and life-affirming, that so many people throughout the world are focused on watching the best of the best do their best.
So, I got to thinking: what if there was a Preservation Olympics, where people all over the world convene to show off what they have done in their home communities in the name of historic preservation, where there was genuine competition among groups or individuals who had worked for years on projects, overcome hurdles and reached new heights – all in the name of saving some aspect of the past so that it can be part of the present and the future.
Where would it be held? Who would sponsor it? Who would enter? What would they do to prepare for the competition? Would Maryland have any contestants to beat? I know this whole line of thinking is sort of silly, but you have to admit that the triumph of the human spirit over limitations — and preservation is filled with them — is compelling and inspiring. So, too are those things we choose to save from our past. Every one of them has some association with the human existence and human achievement. Honoring those bits of our past says something about society. It says what came before us is important, and the evidence of it binds us together, all in the “contest” we call life. Now, it’s time to tune in to the women’s water polo.
I recently heard a consultant whose clients are an impressive list of non-profits focused on history and preservation remark that non-profits can’t be “killed off.” Even those which seem to be limping along financially or whose mission is not cutting edge among today’s charitable causes, seem to survive. Similarly, he pointed out, that achieving collaborative economies or truly sharing missions isn’t part of the non-profit culture. Restaurants come and go, telecommunications giants, financial institutions, and airlines disappear or morph into some other entity but non-profits are generally stubbornly independent and territorial. Only a few hours later, I talked with the director of a local historical society, and she mentioned that her organization is considering how it can be more collaborative with another very successful non-profit which, years ago, was spun off from her older organization. Those two conversations really made think.
Are we entering an era when, of necessity, we will have to look more closely at efficiencies and real partnering too achieve common goals? I think this may be the case. For no other reason, the non-profit sector continues to grow in our state, even though we have been feeling the effects of an economic downturn for four years now. Are people willing, generous though they may be, to provide healthy financial underpinnings for these approximately 30,000 organizations? Those of us who rely on donors –and most do to some degree –owe them a self-examination of our goals and practices to make sure we are using our resources as carefully as possible.
Those of us in the non-profit arena would have to be cave-dwellers not to have heard the new verb “to partner” or its adjectival relative, “partnering.” I am as guilty as anyone at using those words without really defining them. Sharing a mailing list, or joining in sponsoring an event are a start, but I think we may have to delve deeper into cost- and mission- effective ways to accomplish our goals. The luxury of each non-profit occupying its own silo is no longer realistic. This may be especially true for the many small non-profits for which hope of significant growth and sustainability may not be realistic. What do you think?
The preservation movement in America really began in 1853 with the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association’s effort to save George Washington’s home. Of course, at that time there were no state or federal programs or laws for preserving of our new nation’s cultural or architectural heritage, even Mt. Vernon.
Thankfully, in response to international efforts to preserve historic sites like the Coliseum in Rome, things began to change in the 1930’s leading to the establishment of the nation’s first municipal historic district in Charleston, South Carolina. Eventually the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was enacted in 1966, which created the National Register of Historic Places and State Historic Preservation Offices and the system for identifying and protecting historic buildings and sites.
Maryland has long been a leader in historic preservation. In fact, the Maryland Historical Trust was established five years before the NHPA in response to lobby efforts by the Society of the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, now know as Preservation Maryland, to create a quasi-state agency dedicated to preserving historical and cultural resources. But while today the preservation of historic buildings and sites is widely recognized as important to the public welfare, with an established legal and regulatory framework, it is often seen as secondary to education and other social services, or even economic development interests.
Historic preservation is vital to understanding our shared history, maintaining a sense of place, revitalizing older neighborhoods and Main Street commercial districts, creating sustainable communities, and plays an important role in our culture and economy. Accordingly, every five years states are required to produce preservation plans in order to receive federal funding for preservation programs. Unfortunately, the Maryland Historical Trust’s PreserveMaryland planning initiative has stalled at critical time when we need to be demonstrating the importance and benefits of historic preservation when competing for shrinking state revenues.
One of my goals for PreserveMaryland is for the Maryland Historical Trust and Maryland Department of Planning to develop an annual “State of Preservation” report, which both documents and illustrates the impact of the state funding and other programs on preserving are Maryland’s historical and cultural resources. It could be used to more effectively educate lawmakers and empower preservation advocates in the efforts to gain support for the Maryland Historical Trust and its programs, like the Maryland State Arts Council and Department of Business and economic Development do so successfully.
Earlier this week the Maryland General Assembly convened in Annapolis for its 430th legislative session. It’s critical for those who care about the important role of preservation in their lives and communities to make your voices heard. The Governor’s budget is due to be released on January 18. We’ll let you know how preservation interests fare and hope to see you in Annapolis!
Psst. Don’t tell anyone, but I am using the assignment I was given at this week’s staff meeting to “write a blog” as an unscientific research project. For those of you not aware of the schedule inherent in our blog postings, Preservation Maryland staff aims for a new blog post on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. Judging from the variety of past posts, all of us contributing authors seem to have different ideas about what our blog audience wants and needs to learn from us.
I am the development and communications professional on the staff, so alas, you wouldn’t value any descriptions of historic buildings that I could write. Though I do know the orders of Greek architecture, I am not schooled enough to estimate the dates on most of Maryland’s architectural treasures. I have an unreasonable fear of spiders so I don’t do attics, basements or crawl spaces. Structural mysteries are lost on me. Blogs on architecture or restoration projects are definitely in the purview of the field staff. Would you like to read about our educational programming, things that make you a better preservationist – which we call outreach? Then our outreach director will be your favorite blogger. There are the major advocacy issues – public policy, legislation, and regulations – that consume much of our executive director’s time and blog focus.
Me? I spend most of my time telling others about the organization, with the goal of engaging them to the point of providing financial support. There is tremendous satisfaction in this. Every once in a while, a phone call comes from out of the blue, announcing support from someone not on our radar screen. More often, it is the steady trickle of membership renewals and annual fund gifts that sustain me professionally, and the organization financially. For blog readers, this is probably not exciting stuff, but to our organization, it is our life’s blood. There is evidence that those who use and most value social media are not those who are most likely to provide financial support to a charity such as Preservation Maryland.
So, here comes the experiment part: send us your comments about what you’d like to read about in our blog and, while you’re at it, click here to make a donation so we can continue writing!
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with people about some of the challenges and changes needed in the field of historic preservation. In ruminating on this subject here are a couple of topics that always come to mind.
First, I would like to see our Historic District and Preservation Commissioners be given the tools they need to make the critical and informed decisions they are faced with at every meeting. Regardless of what anyone says, this is a hard job and often times a thankless one. Preservation is complicated business and when your decisions directly impact somebody’s property the pressure is truly on. Our Commissioners are on the front lines when it comes to historic preservation and they interface with the public more than anyone. The impressions that people come away with are important, so when decisions are made they need to be right. Arbitrary just will not fly here if people are going to have respect for what we do. One thing I know is that a defensible decision is just that, in the right and irrefutable according to law. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion. Here’s a little insight for you, over the past year a working committee has been developing an extensive training course for preservation commissions on the Eastern Shore. This will have an online and workshop component to it and the finished product is looking really great. It has not been officially released yet, but I think it will help everyone who serves in this position and give them some back up for what is a critical and important job. So stay tuned for more on this!
Secondly I find it curious that everyone thinks of anything having to do with historic preservation as being the ‘historical society.’ Honestly, if you weren’t a person involved in historic preservation how would you know what all the different organizations are or what they do? How would you know that the National Park Service is the keeper of the National Register and not the National Trust? You wouldn’t and sometimes when people are trying to wrap their minds around it all it gets pretty confusing. So if the general public automatically reaches out to the historical society for everything preservation oriented that means our local historical societies play a very critical role in terms of public relations for the rest of us in the field. What that speaks to is the need for these organizations to have the knowledge they need to direct people to the correct resources and potentially a revamped mission in some ways. Today a lot of historical societies are going through an interesting metamorphosis. They’re trying to be more relevant, innovative and dynamic in a culture that for many years has been somewhat static. It’s a challenge, but one way is for historical societies to become greater advocates for historic preservation. Without the houses and landscapes, how can you make the history come to life? Just something to think about as we edge towards the end of the year. Let’s try something different, go in a new direction and better yet, support each other in important ways that help all boats rise.
- Elizabeth Beckley
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has initiated a dramatic reorganization under its new President Stephanie Meeks. Called Preservation 10X, it was conceived by the leadership of the National Trust and intended to enable the organization to have “10 times the impact and 10 times the reach.” It’s an ambitious goal, but is it realistic and how will it work?
Budget and capacity constraints are driving the changes. However, I have concerns about the initiative and its impact on the Statewide and Local Partners like Preservation Maryland, both as a group and individually, and the future of the preservation movement. I am particularly concerned about its signature program called National Treasures, both its name and limited scope, which will focus the Trust placed-based preservation efforts on just 100 nationally significant sites yet to be determined and expected to evolve.
As a Statewide Partner, Preservation Maryland has been closely involved with the Trust and has supported it as the national leader of the preservation movement. Like many Partners we want to better understand the basis for Preservation 10x and its impact on our work and the preservation movement. We have requested information about the Trust’s financial situation and the internal analysis of its existing programs, along with the results of the Trust’s recent national survey of it members.
I’m sure Preservation 10X will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming National Preservation Conference in Buffalo, given the questions and concerns that have been raised by Trust’s Partner organizations. In response, the staff of the Trust will be develop a fact sheet and FAQ’s on how Preservation 10X will specifically affect the Statewide and Local Partners program and its work of individual members organizations such as Preservation Maryland. Most importantly, clarification is needed on how the Trust will assist Partner organizations with threatened historic sites in their states or towns that aren’t one of the 100 National Treasures.