History Unlocked

April 28, 2020 by Carrie Villar

You’ve surely noticed the explosion of digital content in your inboxes and social media feeds as the country has been asked to stay at home and as businesses and nonprofits have rapidly pivoted to an online-only world. The historic preservation community is no exception.

While our National Trust Historic Sites have always been active online as part of our overall programming, this time of mandatory closures has caused us to refocus and creatively expand how we can share our vibrant historic landscapes, buildings, and objects—as well as the diverse, multifaceted stories they tell—with an exclusively virtual audience.

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a webinar for our Preservation Leadership Forum that focused on digital engagement, and where I was joined by Scott Mehaffey, the Executive Director at the Farnsworth House; Elon Cook Lee, the National Trust’s Director of Interpretation and Education; and Sarah Lann and Lisett Chavarela, the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Director of Education and Director of Communications, respectively. The conversation highlighted that whether you are a historic site or preservation advocacy organization, we have a lot in common when it comes to the challenges and opportunities in sharing the beauty, power, and inherent value of America’s historic places with the public online.

In that spirit, as well as in the spirit of staying safe, healthy, and socially distant, I am excited to share that the National Trust is making our annual Preservation Month entirely virtual for the first time. Starting May 1, Virtual Preservation Month will offer 31 days of rich and varied digital experiences at historic places that we hope will inspire, delight, and entertain people around the country as they come to know our work—and the historic preservation movement—in new and different ways.

Throughout the month, the National Trust will bring you the very best in historic preservation from coast to coast, letting you get up close and behind the scenes as you revisit your favorite places, or discover and explore places you may have only dreamed of going. Whether coming to you from a National Trust Historic Site, Historic Artist Home and Studio, or National Treasure, each day will introduce you to something new.

For example, you can spark your imagination by:

  • Taking a deep dive into the latest in preservation as you learn about the cutting-edge concepts being explored to save the National Mall’s Tidal Basin from the effects of climate change; or seeing up close Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian home, the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • Exploring the gardens and spring landscapes of places like Filoli in Woodside, California; or discovering fascinating spaces not seen on a regular tour at sites like Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Listening to a concert at Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, or watching a performance of Out of the Shadows, a work about musician Bunk Johnson, commissioned by and performed at The Shadows in New Iberia, Louisiana.
  • Seeking inspiration from artists like Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner by visiting their historic home and studio in East Hampton, New York; or exploring the world-class modern sculpture collected by the Rockefeller family at Kykuit, their home in Tarrytown, New York.

While this month of programs will shine a virtual light on the richness of the American legacy and the contributions and impact of the preservation community, we all certainly hope to be physically back in these places we love as soon as it is safe to do so.

That said, I am heartened to think that this time of crisis and challenge may actually help us create a “new normal” for preservation—one where we continue to actively share our love for old places with audiences around the world through digital engagement, virtual experiences, and unparalleled access to beauty, culture, and history.

Carrie Villar
Acting Vice President for Historic Sites

Join the movement to save and sustain historic African American places. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will help every American see themselves, their history, and their potential in our collective story and national cultural landscape.

Learn More