For many years, in reference to building legislative support for historic preservation issues, I have suggested that until such time as saving old buildings is seen as an intrinsic goal, we are fighting battle by battle whilst losing the “war.” Were we to get to the point, from nostalgia, good planning, economics, environmental stewardship or simple respect, where there was substantial agreement that keeping buildings standing unless there is a truly justified reason to remove them, the debate would be reduced to who pays. Preservation, were it a “mom and apple pie” issue, would be a lot easier to promote.
The same, sadly, is becoming true in the larger world of heritage. Preservationists rely upon historical societies and museums, often working in close partnership with them and their extensive photo libraries and archives. Most of us, I am sure, hold multiple memberships in a variety of historical societies. I know I belong to about five or six organizations, mostly local or county museums, in the areas in which I work frequently.
Museums, by their nature, rarely get involved in the sort of advocacy issues that can sometime make preservation enemies and so, in general, elected officials tend toward a more benign attitude toward them. Aside from the stereotypes, it’s the rare museum that leads the fight to save the old farmstead, hindering the Wal-Mart that some see as progress. Instead, at least in the view of many, a museum is the responsible repository for the remnant gate or weathervane, after the farmstead is sacrificed for “progress.”
But in these hard economic times, museums and other heritage organizations are hurting. Societies and museums that relied upon public funding are seeing it yanked by officials who under prioritize their value. Many well-meaning leaders simply don’t have enough funding to go around. Others, with an axe to grind (and that would include my own
Last Monday the Oregon Heritage Commission met in Prineville and discussed the looming crisis in