After spending much of the day yesterday in conference sessions focusing on the need to better market historic preservation to a broader audience, it seemed appropriate that I should encounter pure marketing genius here at the conference today.
Let me explain. This morning I was torn between two great-sounding educational sessions--a session on preservation in Asian and Pacific Islander communities or one on preservation commissions and green building issues. I was leaning toward the green issues session, if only because I thought that the Q&A portion would provide me a platform to spout my pro-solar and wind power views. (True to my Dutch heritage, I've never met a windmill I didn't like.) I
was actually waiting in line to gather handouts for the green session when I spotted a very white guy outside the API meeting room wearing decidedly un-white guy accessories. Curiosity got the better of me, and I ventured down the hall to check things out. It turned out that folks from Guam were greeting all the attendees at their session with seashell leis—sold!
The lei, of course, is more than a gift, it's a symbol, one that our colleagues from Guam asked that we wear for the whole conference; if anyone asks what's up, the answer is, "I've stepped outside of the comfort zone of traditional historic preservation." (Actually, it's really not so far outside my own comfort zone--I just need to guard against covetous attendees at tonight's GLBT reception--more on that tomorrow.)
The lei wasn't the only treat from the session. The audience of around forty got to hear about the preservation challenges and successes of three very different API communities: the still fresh and evolving story of a community of recent immigrants from throughout Asia here in Saint Paul, the much longer history of the Japanese-American community of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, and of course, the ancient story of the people of the Commonwealth of Guam. Each speaker had a unique perspective on their respective community, but there was at least one common thread: each community is as concerned about the preservation of its intangible culture as it is about that of its buildings. Indeed, no one seemed to make much of a distinction between the two, and I was left with the feeling that Western-style preservation has a lot to learn from the more encompassing vision displayed by the API community.
Still, no matter what the culture or definition of preservation, it often comes down to dollars, pesos, euros, and yen. In that light, it was the story told by Michael Makio and Joe Quinata of the Guam Preservation Trust that was the biggest revelation. The Guam Preservation Trust, or Inangokkon Inadahi Guahan in the indigenous Chamorro language, was created by the Guam legislature to complement the work of the Historic Preservation Office. Like many preservation organizations stateside, it is a non profit governed by a board of directors. What makes this one uncommon is its funding source: 100 percent of all building permit fees on the island go to support its work. In just the past three years, this has allowed the Trust to make more than $3 million in grants to support historic preservation. Not bad for an island with a population of around 150,000.
I'm still wearing my lei, and will definitely take it back home to San Francisco. The preservation organizations out there still handing out key fobs and commuter coffee mugs, consider this a marketing challenge from colleagues 6,000 miles to our west.
To learn more about the Guam Preservation Trust, visit www.guampreservationtrust.com.
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