U.S. PRESERVATION in the GLOBAL CONTEXT
The US/ICOMOS 2000 International Symposium
6-9 April 2000 Indianapolis, Indiana
Many in the United States assume erroneously that globalization is equivalent to the “Americanization” of the world. This is a risky conclusion, since globalization from a professional point of view really means the ability to understand and adapt to different cultural, social and political environments so that one may communicate and act in them without loss of effectiveness. U.S. preservationists have a lot to contribute to our colleagues overseas, but will only be able to do so if our preservation community develops the ability to think and work in a global context by adapting to infinitely variable local ways. The US/ICOMOS 2000 Symposium aimed to provide some fundamental tools for transnational and international preservation practice in a way that will increase meaningful global participation by the U.S. preservation community.
With international communications becoming an everyday tool accessible to most, the context for decision-making now reaches beyond the local, regional and national spheres. More and more, preservationists must draw on a broad range of experiences from all over the world to enrich their practice, consult colleagues on shared challenges, and devise best methods. Since the beginning of ICOMOS, this was precisely its goal. Using Indiana heritage sites and institutions as case studies, the US/ICOMOS 2000 International Symposium analyzed the background for existing and potential international cooperation in the United States, hoping to illustrate clearly the benefit of strong links between the global and the local experience.
For those active in trans-national heritage initiatives, perhaps the most stunning finding is the similarity in objectives pursued and in local obstacles faced by preservationists, regardless of the language, culture, climate and political system. To illustrate how the preservation movement has responded to such similar challenges, the Indiana experience was analyzed parallel to that of other countries, both in terms of the national theories and ideals embodied in the enabling environment of policy, laws, regulations, institutions and procedures; and the local response to preserving heritage sites in those contexts.
US/ICOMOS convened a roster of distinguished preservation professionals from national and Indiana organizations, and their counterparts from abroad to share their national preservation structures along with the local experience. Four consecutive sessions addressed the international, national and local umbrellas of preservation.
After a formal welcome by Indiana authorities, the analytical foundation was set by Kate Stevenson, the National Park Service’s top authority on cultural heritage, who looked at the topic of international participation in the heritage arena from our national point of view.
The next, or keynote session, was developed in the context of the World Heritage Convention. ICOMOS is an advisory body to UNESCO on matters concerning cultural sites within the reach of the Convention, and all nominations to the World Heritage List are reviewed and assessed by ICOMOS-designated experts. In this first session, Henry Cleere provided an overview of the Convention’s criteria and procedures, using his unique experience as the ICOMOS World Heritage Coordinator. From our national perspective, the lead agency for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention is the National Park Service, and more specifically, its Office of International Affairs. Mr. James Charleton talked about the U.S. participation in the Convention, and what listing means for US Sites. Finally, Denis Grandjean of the French Section of ICOMOS, Deputy Mayor of the World Heritage City of Nancy and Director of the Nancy School of Architecture, spoke about the benefits of listing and the unique and close relationship of their National Committee with the historic cities and towns of France, many of which are in the World Heritage List. This cooperation has created seamless links among the local, the national and the international. The session concluded by coming home to New Harmony, Indiana, a site included in the US Indicative List to World Heritage. Jane Owen spoke about its conservation, management and future plans.
The next session focused on the national institutions of the United States and three foreign countries. Australia, Cuba and Germany were selected on the basis of providing different national preservation models, but also using the criteria of having achieved considerable success in preserving their respective cultural heritage.
Based on the national presentations, the following looked at local preservation and community action by using a case study of a specific site or historic town. Again, selection was based on the record of these sites in having had an international outreach in order to consolidate the local preservation effort.
The last session was a round table of both national and local experts whose charge was to conjugate the content of the presentations with their professional experience, and to discuss improved linkage of international preservation with domestic and local heritage in the United States.
On Saturday morning, the proceedings of the Symposium were summarized, followed by the 2000 US/ICOMOS General Assembly and elections.
The Symposium language was English. There were no simultaneous translation to other languages.