advocacy


ArchivesNext has been diligently gathering information on the state of archives in Haiti after the earthquake, and just published a useful roundup.

AAM released a statement on the earthquake:

All of us have been deeply saddened by the enormous tragedy that is unfolding in Haiti in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake. We urge you to support those noble organizations at the vanguard of providing comfort and relief to Haiti’s suffering citizens. On top of the human tragedy, there has been damage inflicted on Haiti’s cultural treasures. Here is what we know so far about the efforts to protect and rescue this unique heritage:

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) recognizes that the immediate priority is to help the injured and homeless. The Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS) is working with Haitian colleagues to gather information about damage to cultural treasures and the types of help needed. It is placing the expertise and network of its member organizations at the disposal of Haitian colleagues to support their work in assessing damage and the subsequent recovery, restoration and repair.

The ANCBS has launched an online registration form for volunteer archivists, restorers, curators, librarians, architects, and other experts. This registration will help ANCBS link official missions to Haiti with appropriate experts.

As information becomes available, the Blue Shield will publish a report on damage, needs and actions to facilitate coordination. In addition to the ICBS website, information is available on Facebook (Haiti 2010 Blue Shield Solidarity) and Twitter.

The ICBS member organizations are also posting reports of damage on their individual websites. The member organizations are: the International Council on Archives, the International Council of Museums, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations.

ICOM released a report on Haitian museums last week.  It’s a pdf so I’ll copy some relevant info:

Museums’ status
ICOM provides below a status on the museums that we could gather information about. Most of this data needs in situ cross-checking and should be considered cautiously. ICOM is still gathering and checking data on the remaining twelve Haitian museums.
a. Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien
Place des Héros de l’Indépendance, Port-au-Prince Ouest

Though we do not have eyewitness accounts to confirm this, analysis from satellite footage and from an architect familiar with the building leads us to believe that the mainly subterranean concrete structures should have resisted the earthquake.
b. Musée d’art haïtien
Champs de Mars, Angle Rues Légitime et Capois, Port-au-Prince

Michel-Philippe LEREBOURS General Curator and Vice–President of the College Saint Pierre Haitian museum of fine arts provides a direct account: “The Art Museum is still intact, but in a very fragile condition. The exhibition hall is still standing, but we do not dare to enter – but at least the ceiling seems to be stable. The back end of the building is in a better condition. The collections are preserved. Everything possible has to be done to consolidate the exhibition hall to a degree that allows entry in order to rescue the paintings and other objects. Above all, the museum has to be protected from any looting because it holds the most important collection of Haitian painting.”
c. [Musée Vaudou] Collection Marianne Lehmann
Pétion-Ville, abords de Port au Prince

The Lehmann Collection is the largest collection worldwide of Haitian Voodoo objects.
About 350 exhibits are safe because they are being displayed in a travelling exhibition. The majority of the collection (more than 2,000 objects) is still in Haiti, stored in a relatively safe place, though some objects fell and were broken. The building has been seen in an interview that Marianne Lehmann gave for Swiss TV on 17 January, 2010
d. Musée de Guahaba
Limbé

No damage to this museum.
e. Parc historique de la Canne à sucre
Puerto Principe

Michaelle Saint-Natus, a member of this heritage institution, reports that “two chimneys collapsed, two roofs on dependency buildings collapsed and display cabinets, lockers and cultural objects have been damaged”

I’ll keep you updated on news on museums in Haiti and ways public history professionals can help with cultural disaster relief.

Some happenings around the history and museum webs for your delectation:

This year’s Cliopatria Awards were announced at AHA this year–but not by a senior scholar at a banquet, but by a grad student, at a tweetup.  Nicely played, Cliopatricians.  Congrats to all the winners!  No public history bloggers won this year (in contrast to last year’s awesome victory for our own Larry Cebula) but let’s just consider blogging as a public history praxis, shall we?

An interesting article on infrastructure history in Toronto from the new site Active History, which seeks  “to help connect historians with the public, policy makers and the media.”  This dovetails nicely with NCPH’s increased emphasis on public history as “putting history to work in the world.”  I’ll keep my eye on Active History.

The Storefront Library in Boston, an experimental pop-up library as third space.  Inspiring and instructive for us in the LAMiverse thinking about hospitality and civic engagement.

A neat public conservation project.

Terrific post by Leslie M-B about museum membership and appealing to visitors who don’t mind the “cello side.”

Mark Sample is provocative about archiving and calls for a celebration or cataloguing (but not preserving) of “fugitive texts.”  We in the 3D museum world know that we can’t keep everything (for one, we don’t have space, or the resources to care for every thing in the world properly) but we do collect ephemeral artifacts, the one of a kind and “collectible” as well as the ordinary.  That we cannot be universal or even encyclopedic is not a cause for despair (we don’t want a museum the size of the world, like Borges’ map) but an opportunity for reflection and renewed focus on our public mission and responsibilities.  Also:  having seen the dilution of “curator”  as describing everyone engaged in an activity involving informed choices, I fear “archivist” being similarly taken up.

I’m having a terrible time deciding whether to go to AAM or Museums and the Web this year; what about you? Please help me figure out which to attend before registration gets too expensive for both.

Updates on Haiti cultural institutions from Kate via the Blue Shield, an international organization I’m please to know exists.  They’re the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, dedicated to preserving heritage materials in disasters and armed conflicts.  Information will be forthcoming about how cultural information folks can help out, in the meantime do help with other basic needs for relief after the earthquake; I donated to the Mennonite Central Committee.

We’ve had some sad preservation stories recently here in southeast Michigan, with a few bright spots nationally.

The good news is all cliffhanger saved-in-the-nick stories:

  • Every library in Philadelphia was set to close, but, perhaps due to the public outcry, the state legislature passed a budget and saved the libraries.
  • Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (who has tried to defund museums in the past), as well as Sen McCain of Arizona, proposed amendments to the FY2010 transportation bill to prohibit transportation funds from being used for museums or historic preservation.  These were happily defeated in the Senate last week.

For good historic preservation news, the National Trust has some interesting content on Latino heritage in preservation.

Whew, it’s been a busy few weeks in terms of museums, history, and legislative priorities.  Let’s take a walkthrough.

First, the stimulus package.  On Feb 6, the Senate approved, by a large majority, an amendment proposed by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma which forbid the following kinds of institutions to receive federal funding from the stimulus package:  “any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”  For reference, of Michigan’s two senators, Levin voted against, Stabenow for (I wrote her an angry letter.)

Museum folks organized and sent, according to AAM, 4000 letters and emails to legislators about this issue, and, thankfully, in conference committee museums were taken out of the Coburn Amendment.  However, zoos and aquaria are still prohibited from receiving stimulus funding.

The National Trust analyzed the stimulus bill in terms of historic preservation, mentioning things like school renovation as wins for preservation projects.  I hate to be contrary, but I have to agree with a commenter who called this analysis “wishful thinking.”  

And as Larry commented here recently, there was nothing history-related in the stimulus bill.  No new Federal Writers Project, no funding for scanner-ready digitization projects.  

We clearly need to make a better case for the economic impacts and benefits of museums, history and culture.  AAM’s Museums Advocacy Day, Monday and Tuesday of this week, apparently went well, with over 300 museum professionals, volunteers and board members descending on Washington.  That’s just a first step.  We need to be advocating for our community memory institutions locally.  I challenge the Oklahoma museum community to invite their museum-skeptic senator to visit all their institutions and see the ways museums serve their communities.  I challenge you, my reader, to call your county commissioners and invite them to your museum.  Build up support locally and we won’t have to fight so hard on a federal level.

Moving on to the omnibus appropriations bill, which passed the House last week, we get some better news for cultural organizations:

Tyler Green notes some earmarks for the arts and arts institutions in the omnibus.

Lee White of the NCH ran down all the budget lines for agencies of interest.  They are all increases over recent years’ budgets:  National Archives, NHPRC (which the Bush administration kept trying to zero out of the budget), Teaching American History grants (a modest increase), NEH (the digital humanities initiative funding about doubled!), NPS cultural programming and preservation, and the Smithsonian.  

I’ll keep you informed of any new developments.

A new state (for me), a new set of problems for historic and cultural organizations.  

The latest blow for Michigan’s cultural heritage communities is that in this week’s State of the State address, Gov. Granholm has proposed cutting the entire History, Arts and Libraries state department, the only department she proposed to eliminate.  She does support “finding other means to support these important functions,” but provided no details.   It’s unclear whether the departments in HAL would relocate to to other state departments or would be cut.  Certainly it would diminish the status of arts and culture on a state level, and possibly mean a decrease in grant funding, particularly for small libraries.

Another cut of interest to history folks is that of the Michigan State Fair, the nation’s oldest.  The governor said that the state would not provide the fair (or the UP fair in Escanaba) any funding at all in next year’s budget, and proposed selling the fairgrounds, on Woodward and Eight Mile in Detroit.  The fair’s director said they would look elsewhere for funding (though the major sponsors of the fair in the past have been GM and Chrysler), and proposals are floating up to move the fair to a more rural location.  Though the Michigan State Fair is not as large or prosperous as, say, the Minnesota State Fair, the Most Awesome Event Ever*, it’s definitely a valuable cultural and community event that deserves some smart thinking and preservation.

Also in Michigan history news, in the Feb 24 special election here in Detroit, otherwise known as this year’s first mayoral primary, there are several ballot proposals up for renewal, including the millage for Detroit history, culture and libraries.  I urge you to vote, and to vote yes on the cultural millage renewal.

 

*Which inspires me to do a Nina Simon-like post on What Museums Can Learn from the Minnesota State Fair.

Now that we have a new administration coming into office, we may see a new direction for federal history and culture organizations, or at least some new faces.  Bruce Cole, the head of the NEH, has announced his resignation as of January.  He will become director of the fledgling American Revolution Center in Valley Forge.  Cole, a Bush appointee, was confirmed twice to become the longest-serving head of the organization–he originated some great projects like the digital humanities initiative.  In related news from the National Coalition for History is the composition of Obama transition team for our federal cultural heritage organizations, NARA, NEH, NEA, and IMLS.  It includes Bill Ivey, the folklorist and former NEA head, as well as some tech experts to review the NARA transition.  Any speculations on who might be appointed to fill the top spot at NEH?

Archives Next has a post up called “Archives are a Luxury.”  Kate’s responding to the SAA’s idea of hiring a lobbyist for archives and archivists, and says that when you put archives up against such things as hunger, homelessness, the energy shortage and so on, archives are clearly a luxury.  We should acknowledge this and as a result work smarter on advocacy by building a united community of users.  She concludes:

The value of collections lies in how they are used. Understanding and connecting to our users should be our first priority as a profession.

So, there, Frank, that’s my answer. If I were President of SAA, or even better, if I won the lottery, I’d invest resources in building a coalition of users of archives. I’d harness their voices—and their lobbyists—to help make the case in Washington for archives funding. I would collect hard data on usage of archives nationwide—an A*CENSUS about our users. I’d try to get funding to conduct the kinds of broad public surveys that ALA has done on public perceptions and usage of libraries. I would pursue a public relations campaign that shows people how archives support things they care about (I might have to win the lottery for that one!). And if the surveys and data collection show that archives aren’t actually being used that much, I would make increasing usage a major focus.

Archives are a luxury. This means we have to fight harder and smarter to compete in the difficult economic times ahead.   

I agree with her conclusions about the value of collections and about harnessing user goodwill and energy to advocate for archives, but I disagree that archives are a luxury, and even if you deeply believe that, I don’t think it’s a useful place to start when it comes to advocacy.    

I think effective advocacy comes from a place of confidence and belief in our missions of preserving, researching, interpreting and providing access to knowledge, information and authentic materials and artifacts.  (I’m talking here about the work of museums, archives, libraries, and other cultural institutions as a whole.  I readily acknowledge that I don’t know much about archival community internal debates.)  To start by saying that our work is not as objectively important in the world as more bread-and-butter issues leaves us in a bit of an uncomfortable position.  If we start from this place:

We are trained to think that what we do is essential. But is it? When you stack it up against things like feeding people, finding cures for diseases, repairing crumbling bridges, funding for police and fire fighters, keeping people from being homeless, finding alternative sources of energy—how essential does what we do seem? 

It begs the question, why are we not working on those issues?  Why am I in the museum today instead of in the lab?

We don’t need to apologize for our work.  Lobbyists for corporate interests don’t tell legislators that they’re not essential parts of the country.  Other educational and social service groups don’t tell legislators that they’re not so important as the other interests.  The AAM has some great primers on advocacy, including reasons why to get involved and talking points about why museums are so important.  AAM empowers museum professionals to do our own advocacy on behalf of our sector.   I see no reasons why archives and archivists can’t follow this model.  (Also, the National Coalition for History lobbies on archives-related issues, and the SAA is already a member organization.)     

I don’t think archives are a luxury, or museums or libraries.  Repositories of the world’s knowledge and culture are key to putting our world back together and building a sustainable future.  (That’s one reason that there are so many museum/history/heritage based structs on Superstruct.)  We don’t have a future without the real stuff of the past.  After natural disasters, one of the first things that happens, while cleanup and evacuation and food relief and reconstruction are starting up, is storytelling and the collecting and saving of stories and the material culture of stories.  That’s where we come in.  Our work is worth every penny.

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