Travels in India – Launching the International National Trusts Organisation

Posted on: December 4th, 2007 by David J. Brown

Darko Babic (left) and David Brown ride atop an elephant in Jaipur, India.After three wonderful days touring the Golden Triangle of India to visit Agra Fort, the incomparable Taj Mahal, the beautiful Fatehpur Sikri, and intriguing city of Jaipur, our driver Supe and my traveling companion Darko Babic from the University of Zagreb in Croatia headed north on Sunday morning to return to Delhi. Supe provided commentary along the way on the camps of gypsies, the rural poverty, the beautiful yellow fields of mustard, and the value of water buffalo (he owns two). As we entered Delhi on a new highway Supe saw something that surprised even him - a speed trap! Traffic laws in many parts of the country where we traveled are non-existent, so the presence of the police ticketing people shocked us all after three days of assuming that speeding was a birth right.

But I'm glad we made it back, because it began an extraordinary two days in which I was privileged to have speaking roles on programs with both the Prime Minister of India and the Vice President of India as part of the International Conference of National Trusts.

Banners announcing the 12th International Conference of National Trusts.We arrived safe and sound at the historic Ashok Hotel which is located in the diplomatic enclave of Delhi, where they do have traffic laws and many historic and beautiful neighborhoods. It was apparent from the massive sign and banners at the hotel welcoming the National Trusts that this was going to be a special few days. I was met by representatives of our host National Trust for the conference - the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) - and taken immediately to a press conference with the international press. This 12th International Conference of National Trusts is a historic one, in that we're launching an new international group of National Trusts. Let me backtrack a bit and explain.

The National Trust movement began in 1907 in England with the establishment of what would later become the National Trust for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Other countries, including the US, copied all or portions of the British model until there were dozens of National Trusts all around the world. Beginning in the late 1970s, many of these Trusts came together on three and then two year intervals to meet and share best practices. As early as the 1989 meeting there was discussion of the value of having an ongoing organization of National Trusts to take the valuable contacts made at the conferences and build on those in the intervening years. But it wasn't until the 11th International Conference of National Trusts hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington in 2005 that a steering committee was formed and plans were made to launch a new group.

Which brings me back to the press conference. After two years of extensive work electronically and by telephone, the steering committee was gathering to tell the press that we were launching the International National Trusts Organisation (or INTO - and no that's not a typo, we do use the British spelling). I was privileged to serve as the NTHP representative on the Steering Committee along with colleagues from 10 other countries, and we have all come to be close friends through cyberspace and the phone lines. The press conference was terrific and we had very good coverage the next day in the India Times and India Express newspapers. We were off to a great start.

Sunday evening we were treated to an extraordinary performance before dinner at Sanskriti Kendra - a multi-acre site on the outskirts of Delhi that is designed as a living creative complex. A wonderful dance troupe under the direction of a remarkable woman dancer named Rekha Tandon performed "Dhara" - a dance that weaves together the rural and urban dance forms of Orissa into a new, contemporary whole. The performance had its genesis in a project initiated by INTACH to address issues of livelihoods for gotipua dancers. Traditionally these young boys dressed as females and performed dances as a means of spreading teachings beyond the temple. However, as they grew into puberty they had to stop dancing and - as our hosts explained it - move into such mundane professions as bicycle repair. Under the guidance of INTACH's program, this contemporary form is helping young dancers continue their careers in the arts. It was very beautiful and moving and helped set the cultural stage for what followed.

Monday dawned early for me as I was scrambling to find a computer printer to produce my remarks for that morning's very important inaugural ceremony. (I had learned I had to speak in front of the Prime Minister of India as I boarded the plane last week!) Suffice it to say I had a text ready by the time we left at 8 a.m. to head over to an auditorium in the government offices.

Dr. Manmohan Singh is a remarkable politician in India, and we were all honored that he came to help inaugurate the International Conference. It was a privilege for me to be asked to speak on behalf of the international National Trusts and to join Dr. Singh and our host, Mr. S.K. Misra, Chairman of INTACH, on the dais. After the speakers all participated in the lighting of diya (a ceremonial candle), Mr. Misra spoke and then I followed. My comments are available on the National Trust site, and Dr. Singh's remarks are on his web site. The Prime Minister was very thoughtful in his remarks, pointing to the importance of this first International National Trust Conference to be held in the developing world.

Banners announcing the 12th International Conference of National Trusts.And that's one of the great attributes of this particular conference. For 2005 in Washington, Dick Moe made it a priority and we worked very hard to diversify the individuals and groups attending what had traditionally been a very white and very Anglo conference. And we had a great deal of success. But the fact that this year's conference is being held in the developing world just opened up a wonderful floodgate of diversity and we have delegates representing National Trusts and similar heritage organizations from Cambodia, Korea, Nigeria, eastern Europe, and even Peru. I'm having breakfast this morning with our colleagues from the Indonesian National Trust so they can learn more about Main Street! It is a very small world.

In any event, Monday morning was a special time in the life of the National Trust movement...and we were just approaching the formal launch of INTO. But since I have to get ready for that breakfast, I'll talk about the launch ceremony in a later post.

David J. Brown is Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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