Sunday was the first day of Preservation Leadership Training 2008 and this year we are in beautiful Portland, Maine where the weather is nice, the air smells great, and the fog rolls in whenever it pleases creating an eerie view from Top of the East, the restaurant at the top of our hotel. On Sunday morning thirty-four travel-worn participants made their way into the Longfellow Room to start an intensive one-week program that will make them laugh, and maybe, just maybe, tear their hair out. In the end though, all of them will walk way with a strong network of fellow preservationists and knowledge that will help them lead the preservation movement in their local communities and reach across state lines to work on those issues that require us to work together.
Preservation Leadership Training (PLT) is an intensive one-week experience tailored to respond to the needs of state and local preservation organizations and agencies. It emphasizes providing a participatory experience in leadership and organizational development techniques and the most up-to-date and effective information and training in current preservation practices, issues and action strategies. In addition to the classroom work these participants will work on a team project that has relevance and connection to the host community.
First a few stats—this year's group comes from 18 states and serves as executive directors, board members, volunteers and in one case a newbie to preservation having only been introduced to the field six months ago. After a rigorous application process they finally arrive ready to share and ready to jump right in and become official participants in what we call “Preservation Boot Camp.”
Rachael, a native of Portland, exclaimed that she “is so psyched about being here. It is so great to be with a group of people and it is nice to work on a project that is outside the norm and you are able to concentrate on developing your own skills while simultaneously hearing about other people's passions as well as about different resources across the country.”
After lunch the group meandered up the block to the site of the Baxter Building, this year's team project. Originally constructed as Portland's Public Library, the Baxter is now owned by the Maine College of Art (MECA) housing their new media center. Designed by Francis H. Fassett the building's Romanesque Revival design allowed the architect to showcase a host of flourishes, textures and details on a fairly small building.
We entered the building from the back (through the 1960 addition) and it was interesting to watch the participants as they first tentatively and then with more energy examined every nook and cranny of the building like preservation detectives determined to gather as much information so that they could provide the community with a practical and usable solution. They especially loved that they could step out onto the fire escape and examine the spectacular roof tiles made up of a combination of slate and copper.
There were a lot of different reactions to the building and you could see the thoughts percolating as each section of this building revealed itself. Boyd found that “Today [the Baxter Building] seemed dark and airless,while it is a building that was built to appreciate the light and the environment around it, consequently in our initial meetings my group thinks that it should be put to some public use so that the public can appreciate it.“
After leaving the Baxter we all hopped on a bus and took a tour of Portland from the Eastern Promenade, the Old Port Exchange to the gorgeous Colonial and Federal revival mansions on the Western Promenade. Its a promising beginning and looks to be a fantastic and rewarding week.
The five teams will present their ideas during a public presentation on Friday June 27, 2008 at 5:30pm at MECA's Baxter Building (619 Congress Street, Portland, Maine). All are welcome to attend.
-- Priya Chhaya
Center for Preservation Leadership
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