Why do we preserve? Forum discusses an answer

Over the past few years, Morvan Park in Leesburg, VA has been working with a group of preservation experts in a forum, where they have been considering the question “Why do we preserve?” I first heard about this initiative at the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Conference held in Hagerstown, MD on May 25, 2016. Morvan Park’s Director of Preservation Jana Shafagoj led our group in an interactive session where she solicited opinions on the mission statement and values the forum had developed through their work.

Here is what they came up with: Defining Preservation for the 21st Century

At the conference, Jana also presented a mission statement:

Preservation protects the tangible link to our intangible past.

Preservation actively manages the continual evolution of our tangible heritage in order to safeguard each resource’s unique ability to provoke memory, convey stories, strengthen communities, elicit curiosity, and inspire creativity within every individual.

I found it interesting that words like “history” and “the past” were left off this statement. Jana and several other representatives of the committee explained that was done intentionally. They feel that you can’t define when something becomes “historic” – right now, preservationists use a 50-year mark. This definition eliminates that standard in favor of a more sweeping view.

Jana explained via email: “Basically, the Forum participants chose to not include those words because we want to question the validity of the 50 year requirement – [currently,] a property must be 50 years or older to qualify for listing in the National Register. There are some exceptions to this rule, basically if a building can be proven to be of extremely high cultural significance, it can be eligible before the 50-year mark.  One example of this is the last column from the World Trade Center – it was granted listed status very quickly after September 11, 2001.”

She continued, “For me, history is yesterday and beyond — it does not start 50 years before. History is happening every day, and our daily decisions and actions affect it. I think preservation needs to recognize that it is dealing with what we have in hand today and deciding what is worth keeping around and in what form. I also think we all need to start thinking of history as part of a continuous story that leads to us today, not as something separate from us.”

Right now, Jana is working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the results of this forum to determine the next steps. She says there will be other opportunities to participate in the forum, if you are interested.

What do you think about the proposed mission statement and preservation values? Tell me below, but also tell Jana at  jshafagoj@morvenpark.org and let her know if you’d like to get involved with this project.

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