J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The “Partners in Preservation” Competition

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express have a program called “Partners in Preservation,” which invites the public to vote online for which historic sites deserve funding.

In fact, we can vote repeatedly, once a day—though only for two more days. For that audience-participation feature, this funding program was dubbed “Preservation Idol” in the Boston Globe last week.

In the current competition for sites in Massachusetts, those which date back to Revolutionary times are:

As of this writing, the site with the most votes is...a carousel in Hull.

The site that receives the most votes will get a guaranteed $100,000. Another $900,000 will be divided among the other sites by the program’s administrators; it’s unclear how much weight they’ll put on the popular voting in making that decision.

The program is not without controversy. A Founding Director of the Historic House Trust of New York City commented at Philanthropy Today that such competition was “repulsive”:
all sites have a special niche, cultural or historic importance, relevance, and they all deserve grants. Shame on NTHP & Am Ex for turning them into competitors instead of collaborators.
I suspect that the program was designed to get just this sort of publicity and draw people into thinking about historic preservation. But it does turn the enterprise into a popularity contest. Not that popularity wasn’t part of the preservation movement from the beginning; this just formalizes the process.

1 comment:

Rob Velella said...

As an employee at a historic home, I am somewhat torn by the process. I don't believe that the competition made a really significant buzz, especially since the nominees are so far apart geographically. Nevertheless, many of the staffs and friends of these sites really stepped up and did their best to self-promote (some having more limited resources than others). As we near the end of this, it's interesting to notice which sites rose to the top so quickly (like the aforementioned carousel in Hull) and which have been largely ignored by the populace (Old North Church). I tip my hats to all the sites, of course: it's an honor just to be nominated.