The second full day of the 13th International Conference of National Trusts (ICNT13) in Dublin featured an afternoon filled with stories about how people from around the globe engage with their heritage. In the course of a couple of hours we traveled from Indonesia to Gambia and from Ireland to the United States.
The Indonesian Heritage Trust is a partner in the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) and over the course of the past two days we’ve heard stories both poignant and inspiring of their work in the face of what may seem to be overwhelming odds. IHT Executive Director Catrini Kubontubuh told us yesterday of their strong emphasis on heritage education, as the organization is choosing not only to respond to their situation but proactively shape it for the future. There’s a lesson to be had for even the strongest and largest National Trusts.
Eleonore De Merode of The Prince Claus Fund in The Netherlands inspired us with example after example of how local heritage advocates in places such as Gambia used seed grants from the fund to respond to the most cruel situations—fire, natural disasters, war—and restore and rebuild the keystones of their local heritage. The fund’s Cultural Emergency Response program—and its focus on helping countries hit by disaster—is an example of how support of preservation and conservation can help restore a community’s soul when facing the most devastating situations.
An Taisce’s lively and energetic Patricia Oliver and Michael John O’Mahony, director and manager respectively of the Environmental Education Unit, demonstrated first hand why the National Trust for Ireland’s signature “Green Schools” program is such a hit. Many of the conference participants had visited a Green School in Dublin earlier in the day, but we all had a chance to learn firsthand how this program—which depends so much on student leadership—has taken hold and now involves a majority of Ireland’s schools and students. Not content just to run an exemplary program, An Taisce has also taken the time to document its success AND the positive impact on both the environment and the economy.
I was privileged to be a part of this plenary panel to discuss the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s efforts to use online communications and social media to empower citizens to act on behalf of the places that matter here in the US. We examined how more than 4,000 citizens contacted members of Congress within two days of a blog posting and some amazing viral communication about the Department of the Army’s plan to replace, rather than repair, Arlington’s Cemetery’s iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. That response pushed Congress and the Army to change course. I showcased our successful Partners in Preservation program with American Express, where online voting and social media has brought hundreds of thousands of new supporters to historic sites in four U.S. cities. The recent Second Line parade in New Orleans to protest LSU’s plans for Charity Hospital and the Mid-City Neighborhood was organized in part through Facebook and Twitter postings by local activists, in another example of how people use 21st century communications tools—linked in this case with an old New Orleans’ tradition—to save the city from the misguided plans of government.
I ended with an explanation of our This Place Matters campaign, which as I write is approaching 2,000 photos posted on our Flickr site. This program to ask individuals to tell us what places are important in their communities and their lives struck a resonant chord with all the participants. We ended with a little social media effort of our own, telling the world in our own This Place Matters picture that Dublin Castle is a place that matters. Don’t be surprised to see delegates to ICNT—newly empowered with a This Place Matters placard—begin posting pictures from Dublin and around the world. It is a simple yet compelling campaign which is one more way we can help you protect, enhance, and enjoy the places that matter.
David J. Brown is the Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.