This week I’ve been meeting American partners with Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the NT (England, Wales and Northern Ireland).
First up was the National Parks Service. As Hilary said, it’s not often she meets organisations that are so much bigger than the NT. 84m acres of land, 43,000 miles of coastline, more than 2,400 national historic landmarks, 27,000 employees, over 300,000 volunteers, an annual budget of around $2.7bn, you get the picture. Admittedly, it’s an American federal agency. But there are a lot of similarities with the work INTO members are doing and potential for learning, collaboration and staff exchange. Particularly around outdoor interpretation and visitor enjoyment. We were both impressed by their sustainability agenda (Green Parks Plan pdf) and accompanying monitoring.
There was so much to learn from all these meetings, I’ll have to write another blog about it but this is worth quoting. Indeed, when Kerry Olson, Chief of Interpretation, Education and Volunteers at NPS, said “Who sent you the memo that said you need to tell the stories of old white men?”, Hilary nudged me and whispered “I hope you wrote that down“!
Next was lunch with Augustus Casely-Hayford, Director of the Smithsonian’s Museum on African Art. Gus spoke passionately at the Bermuda conference to the theme: Arms Wide Open. You can download his speech here. It’s now been announced that Gus will lead the V&A’s new East London museum.
We then met Paul Edmondson, President and CEO, and Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer of the American National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was interesting to hear more about the US model. Particularly how they divide their work between looking after their own sites and advocating on behalf of the sector. And their membership model. It seems that joining a local site is an increasingly popular approach.
Afterwards we visited Shaw Main Streets with its energetic director, Alexander Padro. Main Street America is a subsidiary of the US National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has an incredible track record of revitalising older and historic downtown neighbourhoods. The programme takes a holistic approach, organised around four points: economic vitality; design; promotion and organisation. From the supermarket in an abandoned covered market to the historic Howard Theatre. From the neighbourhood hairdressers, Wanda’s on 7th, to the flagship Apple Store in the old Carnegie Library, Shaw Main Streets is about building a stronger community through preservation-based economic development.
The following day, we took the train up to New York where we met Carter Strickland, New York State Director of the Trust for Public Land. TPL is positioned as an expert adviser and facilitator in ‘doing deals’. These bring together multiple funding sources and exploit all aspects of the US legal system to secure land for a variety of environmental and social purposes. In the vast majority of cases TPL only owns land for a small period during any transaction and passes it on to others. In New York City, they have developed lots of new green spaces with different management models. We visited one of their Green School Yards. TPL works with schools and pupils to turn asphalt school yards into healthy green places to play. And they open to the public out of school hours.
In the evening, I was invited to a reception on behalf of the Preservation Society of Newport County. It was lovely to meet some of their supporters and board. CEO, Trudy Coxe, had also been with us in Bermuda earlier in the year. She had inspired delegates with her fundraising work.
On Thursday morning, we had a meeting with American Express, the premier philanthropic supporter of our global heritage sector. David Brown, former Chief Preservation Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation came along too. We pitched some ideas which we hope will bear fruit next year. From there, Hilary and I headed to the Philip Johnson Glass House.
It was a fairly grey day but that didn’t make the Glass House any less appealing. And really wonderful for Hilary to visit somewhere she’d learned about in art class at school. I found the Gay Gatherings exhibit (mentioned in our Arms Wide Open Report) fascinating. That this group (which included Johnson and David Whitney, Jaspar Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg) had collaborated with, and supported one other was really heart-warming.
Lastly, a wonderful day with Mary Anthony and Gillian Lang of the 1772 Foundation and our friends at the Trustees of Reservations. Established in 1891, the Trustees is the oldest INTO organisation. It owns 27,000 acres across the state, 120 miles of coastline, farmland, inns, lighthouses, even ski runs! It is supported by over 150,000 members. Alicia Leuba explained their latest strategy, called Momentum. So much that feels familiar:
First stop was the incredible Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Over 2,000 acres of salt marshes, beach and a beautiful hilltop mansion. Industrialist Richard T Crane purchased the land in 1910. He spent decades perfecting his summer retreat, finishing Castle Hill in 1928. Director, Peter Pinciaro had presented the Estate in Bermuda and we had all been impressed with their entrepreneurial approach. Seeing it all in the flesh was another matter. Castle Hill is a 1920s paradise! Visitors to the upper floors assume the identity of a visitor to the house in 1928. A Vanderbilt, perhaps. And young actors playing a maid or butler guide them around.
From there on to Appleton Farms. Here the operation is more embryonic and there are ambitious plans to make the property deliver more benefit to nature and educational programmes. This has meant scaling back the Jersey herd and stopping milk production. Tough decisions. But I was really impressed by the locals coming to receive their CSA share: in return for investing in the farm, people receive a fortnightly (in winter) share of the harvest. Really inspirational.
And so, after a busy week on the road – three flights, four hotels, two train journeys – my head is bursting with ideas and my heart is full of beauty and love. Thanks to everyone who helped organise the trip, particularly Katherine Malone-France.