Does art have a place in preservation?

In Markusen and Gadwa’s Creative Placemaking, all of the project cited relied on art to bridge communities and space. What about the practice and enjoyment of art makes these connections possible? How can we harness this creative power into creating the same type of support and community celebration around preservation projects?


Plurality in stakeholders

In Chapter 3 of Kaufman’s Place, Race, and Story, the author cites several frequent problems in trying to gain an understanding of needs representative of an entire group, citing that “…unlike many tribes, African, Asian, or Hispanic American communities do not have officially recognized heritage spokespersons.” Kaufman also explains that the NPS Cultural Heritage Needs assessment “did not consult with spokespersons, but rather with dedicated experts and amateurs, representing various points of views who were willing to talk.”

Thinking back to last week and “A Misplaced Massacre,” the NPS policy of speaking to the “squeaky wheels” in addition to community leaders seems to ring true. How can we contextualize how the National Parks system dealt with stakeholders, both native and non-native, while creating Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site within Kaufman’s critiques?

Identifying stakeholders

In A Misplaced Massacre by Ari Kelman, many of the issues arising from the park’s creation of the Sandy Creek National Historic Site was that stakeholders (typically Native stakeholders) were overlooked, ignored, or just left out of the conversations entirely. How can we, as responsible, culturally-sensitive preservationists, ensure that 1) we know all of the groups involved beforehand and 2) represent Native voices as well as possible, particularly as the business of history making has capitalized on leaving their voices out?

In Cultural Landscapes, Does Size Really Matter?

While reading the UNESCO expectations for integrity in World Heritage Cultural landscapes, I was surprised to find that the size of the landscape in question is significant. The guidelines ask if the landscape is “of adequate size to ensure complete representation of the features and processes which convey significance?”

While this raises a host of questions, my first of which is how can we represent and protected fragmented landscapes? For example, those that have succumbed to development and urban sprawl?

Secondly, does this emphasis on size and grandeur come from the romantic notions of landscape as cultivated by artists in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries? As  cultural landscapes must be understood as being tied to a specific culture, people, or cultural phenomenon, is this association limiting?

Harnessing the Power of Grassroots Activism

In “Re-evaluating Significance…,”  Merlino cites preservation’s main tool as being nomination to local and national registers. I would argue, however that grassroots activists play just as significant a role in preservation, and that this is the true origin of preservation, rather than later fetishizations of grand monuments. This grassroots preservation is closer aligned to people’s real needs; economically and socially and can avoid the entrapment that “significance” and “value” as used in academic preservation can create, which were cited as issues in Merlino’s article. Similarly, the environmental movement’s origins and must of their present activism relies heavily on individuals mobilizing for what is seen as a higher good. How can we facilitate the bridging these two parties, who are really fighting for the same thing?

The Preservation and Curation of Historic Plants

In Robert Cook’s “Is Landscape Preservation an Oxymoron,” he cites the difficulties of preserving materials that, by nature, cannot be preserved- namely plants and wildlife. In my own experience, however, I have found that many varieties and species of plants are being preserved in ways that seem more similar to our brand of conservation than that of ecological conservation. Many nearly extinct varieties of plants are not being preserved because they are central to a certain ecosystem but because they themselves are historic markers of time past.

At the Potager du Roi at Versailles, it has been branded as “Préservation Végetale.” A movement that is gaining speed in many historic potagers around France, vegetal conservation is a means by which historic varieties of plants, namely edible plants such as fruits and vegetables which are no longer consumed or grown, are continually grown, seeded, and displayed in their historic environment. At Versailles, this doesn’t just mean continuing to grow Louis XIV’s favorites (such as peas) or continuing to use historic technologies to grow exotics (such as pineapples, cacao beans, and coffee), but it means growing varieties of plants that are no longer grown or consumed at the site they were developed.

“Fraises Versaillaises” are about the size of a dime, bitter, and an unsightly reddish-brown color. They resemble today’s strawberries only in name, and are inedible by today’s standards of gastronomy. However, at the Potager du Roi, a functioning place of production that relies on the sales fruits and veggies to stay afloat financially, a petite carée is dedicated to the berries. These berries can’t be sold, eaten, or appreciated outside of their historical context as a variety that was developed, grown, and eaten on site.

Plants often can carry historical value in their own right, sometimes separate of the landscape they are connected to. For example, think of Monet’s waterlilies at his home in Giverny, who have become immortalized through art and are carefully preserved as heritage today. As biodiversity decreases and more and more species are at risk, it is important to not only take an ecological approach to preserving plant species, but a historic approach as well.

Preserving Positive and Negative Histories Simultaneously

As is often the case in the historical record, there are many sides to a story. When it comes to preserving heritage, these individual sides must be weighed and represented, ideally concurrently. Modern preservation focuses itself on preserving so-called “negative” histories, as is seen in recent renewal of interest in preserving the stories of slaves on great estates, such as at Monticello. Similar interests have been taken in preserving Native stories in National Parks, which now often recognize that the land that now functions for public use was once ancestral land to Native American peoples and often still holds significance for these groups. American preservation has thus come to preserve the stories that it reviles the most- those of our failures as a society.

In the case of war, there is almost always a winner and a loser. In preserving the histories of these sites, whose stories do we tell? I remember about 2 years ago taking a tour of the Palace of Versailles. It was my first time inside the palace, and I was alone, walking through the great rooms. I happened upon a German girl, about my age, who spoke English and we continued through the rooms together, chatting along the way. We came upon the Hall of Mirrors, and I was overtaken with awe. After substantial study on the construction, the history, and the grand fêtes that had taken place there, I was overcome by the experience of being there in person. I was surprised to find that my new-found friend had a much different reaction. She said, a bit sadly, that this room was a source of national shame in Germany. Remembering my history, and taking a step back, I remembered the long and complicated relationship that Germany had with this room, and was taken a bit aback that no mention was made of if in any of the plaques or guidebooks that helped narrate the room.

Negative histories are everywhere, if you know who to ask. Without taking these stories into consideration in the interpretation, are we truly preserving? At the sites of most battlefields today, the winners are exalted and the losers are hardly mentioned at all. In the future of preservation, I would like to see not just the positive or just the negative stories being told separately, often at separate sites. I would like to get a fuller picture of both the triumphs and the sorrows that have occurred.