Preservation Magazine, Winter 2021

President's Note: Progress, Despite a Challenging Year

Paul Edmondson

As we move forward into 2021, like many others I carry a sense of hope for a global recovery from the pandemic in the months to come. It is balanced with the thought that many things will not—and some should not—return to the status quo, particularly as we continue to address issues of racial justice and equity.

Looking back on a year marked by one challenge after another, I am heartened and inspired to see that our movement and our work have evolved to meet our times by developing new modes of outreach and inclusivity, while remaining focused on the restoration and thoughtful stewardship of historic places that serve their communities.

In response to COVID-19, many preservation organizations, including the National Trust, embraced new virtual tools to engage people with the power of place. Our national preservation conference, PastForward, is a good example. Originally scheduled for Miami in fall 2020, it was moved exclusively to an online platform. This virtual environment made the conference accessible to a broad, diverse audience, who experienced dynamic speakers and relevant content rivaling any past national conference.

The result? More than 4,000 people registered for all or parts of the conference—a record—with a large number of young, first-time attendees. Two hundred diversity scholars received complimentary registrations, and more than half of our plenary speakers were people of color, vividly demonstrating not only the growing inclusivity of our movement but also our potential to write a truer shared national narrative together. Future conferences will continue to include a significant virtual component, leveraging our in-person programs to better connect with new audiences.

At the same time, while COVID-19 forced many of us to work in a virtual world, restoration architects, engineers, archaeologists, construction crews, stonemasons, and others in the building trades continued their hands-on work, face masks donned. Examples abound in this issue of Preservation. On Edisto Island, South Carolina, construction crews stabilized and restored the historic Hutchinson House while architects refined restoration plans and archaeologists investigated the surrounding landscape. In Brooklyn, workers completed a meticulous restoration of the Endale Arch in Prospect Park. In Leadville, Colorado, crews began a major rehabilitation of the Tabor Opera House, named a National Treasure by the National Trust several years ago. Thanks to those dedicated workers—applying their skills at the height of a global pandemic—these buildings and structures will continue to tell their stories and provide their communities with the unique character that only historic places can bring.

And so, despite the challenges that the past year dealt us, our work in the field and across the movement has continued apace. Now, looking to the spring and summer months ahead, we feel well-positioned to build on that progress.

Paul Edmondson is the president & ceo of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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