Monday, December 3rd, was a remarkable day in India as our local host, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), brought both the Prime Minister and the Vice President of India to events celebrating historic preservation and heritage conservation. After the morning presentation by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to launch the 12th International Conference of National Trusts, the feeling among the almost 300 delegates was exceptional. Fiona Reynolds, General Director of the English National Trust, and I were commenting that all of us who care about heritage had just seen how an event like a conference - which our western cynicism often sees as simply a chance to network and learn about the work of others - can be used by skillful local advocates in the developing world such as S.K. Misra of INTACH to dramatically raise the profile for heritage in their country in the span of a few days.
Mr. Misra pulled his magic again in the afternoon when Indian Vice President Shri M. Hamid Ansari spoke at the official launch of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) at the Ashok Hotel in Delhi. At an earlier plenary, I joined members of the INTO Steering Committee in presenting the charter to the group and in answering questions. Groups such as UNESCO were represented and spoke of their support for the creation of INTO, which helped give us strong credibility in the international and developing world. It was easy to see that there was a great deal of excitement about the creation of INTO, and I spoke briefly about how conversations and dreams of almost 20 years had finally been turned in a charter, budget, location - but most importantly a vision for this international group. The English National Trust has really stepped up by providing the office space at their London headquarters, instantly providing INTO with the prestigious address and backing of the world's largest National Trust. If any of you are interesting in a posting to London, here's your chance!
The charter ceremony was another great event filled with Indian traditions and excitement. The Vice President arrived and was greeted with flowers. Steering Committee Chairman Simon Molesworth of the Australian Council of National Trusts made a short speech of the importance of INTO, followed by remarks by Fiona Reynolds putting INTO in context of the 100th anniversary of the National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Vice President then unrolled a scroll which had the preamble of the charter prepared in beautiful calligraphy, and I had the honor of reading the individual names of the Steering Committee members and asking them to come forward and sign the charter. That was followed by an address by the Vice President. Following his remarks, Mr. Misra gave a vote of thanks and exchanged more gifts with the Vice President, who then left the hall to great applause.
We really weren't sure how many nations and National Trusts would sign, so when I closed the proceedings and asked organizations interested in signing the charter to come forward, the entire steering committee was floored when more than 50 signatories (in addition to the 10 Trusts represented by the Steering Committee) were added to the document. I was sitting next to the charter as they signed, and the excitement was terrific. I'll probably show up in about 25 e-newsletters and web sites all around the world, glad-handing delegates!
Such an exciting day meant we had to have a great party to cap off the evening, and we did when the Ministry of Tourism hosted the convention delegates for dinner at the India Habitat Center. A highlight was when Mr. Misra came over to me with this beautiful young lady and said, "here's your biggest fan!" It turns out that his niece, Cezanne Perez, is a historic preservation student at Salve Regina University in Newport Rhode Island and says she "lives on the National Trust website." The National Trust gave Salve Regina an honor award some years ago for the preservation work in restoring multiple historic buildings on their beautiful campus. We had a great conversation, I promised to connect her to our Northeast Office and headquarters staff and look for intern possibilities (if she's 1/10th the preservationist of her uncle she'll be at the top of the class!). The evening featured wine, pictures, great Indian food, and palpable excitement among the delegates for this next step in expanding the National Trust movement that began 100 years ago with three people and 10 pounds in Britain.