Restructuring US/ICOMOS for Resilience in Uncertain Times

A Message from Douglas C. Comer, Ph.D.
US/ICOMOS President

The global pandemic has introduced a time of uncertainty for each of us as individuals, and no less for US/ICOMOS. We will over the next few months restructure in ways intended to provide the resilience that we need to adapt to the unexpected. Some of the ways in which this will be done are unprecedented, while others are consistent with changes that were discussed at our last Board of Trustees meeting on February 7, 2020.

This is to ask all of you to stand ready to assist US/ICOMOS in the coming year as we transition to an organization fitted to the new realities of the world that we live in. US/ICOMOS committees will take a leading role in this, and in coming weeks some will be forming work groups that committee chairs might contact you to participate in. I ask that you retain your membership and seek out new members for US/ICOMOS. Also, if you have any connection with organizations that might provide support to US/ICOMOS in the coming year, I ask that you contact me.

We can anticipate no revenue from our annual Celebration of World Heritage or Conference and Symposium and, as organizations and individuals feel increasing economic pressure, the likelihood of donations and even increasing membership without support and participation from our members is low. For the foreseeable future, ICOMOS has stopped printing ICOMOS membership cards.

US/ICOMOS Treasurer Ellen Delage and I have submitted a number of loan and grant proposals as these have opened up. They include the D.C. Small Business Recovery Grant Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Disaster Loan Assistance with the Small Business Administration, and the CARES Paycheck Protection Program. We have also submitted a request for rent deferral to the management company of our L Street office.

It is important to understand that any relief we might receive through the well-publicized loan and grant programs, even if we receive some relief from all of them, will not resolve the threats to our financial wellbeing. Although these programs may have been presented as a panacea for the economic ills of small businesses and nonprofits, they are far from that. They will not yield nearly enough to make up for the projected shortfall we faced in 2020 had we retained our previous administrative structure. Also, it should be borne in mind that there is enormous confusion and delay associated with all of these programs.

It is with regret that the officers and Board members of US/ICOMOS have voted in the majority to concede to the reality that we simply will not have the funds in 2020 to employ an Executive Director. The position represents more than half of our employee and contracted administrative costs. The current Executive Director, Jane Seiter, left our organization on April 15, 2020. We sincerely thank her for her service to US/ICOMOS and for her efforts to ensure a smooth transition in these difficult times.

Two functions will be essential in the coming year: communications and membership. We will rely upon an ever-expanding capacity to communicate via virtual technology: conference calls, conferences, and webinars, among other digital means. This will make it possible to pursue and ultimately increase our ability to network; receive and convey information relevant to heritage threats and best practices; to train; to develop spaces where we can view and discuss presentations of interest to practitioners, academics, and an informed and interested public; to more effectively advocate; and to pursue advancement by means of donations, grants and the membership. Jenny Spreitzer will continue her work as US/ICOMOS communications lead. Communication and membership efforts overlap: Nicole Ursin will continue as membership lead and is putting in place the NEON software package that will not only manage membership more effectively and with reduced effort but will also facilitate the great variety of digital capacities mentioned above.

While we continue to restructure, communication that has been directed to the Executive Director should be sent to me, using the email address president@usicomos.org. What we have done as we begin to restructure has been difficult and painful, but if we work together as we move ahead we will emerge as an organization that will be able to advance the goals of the World Heritage Convention, from preservation and conservation to the economic and social benefits that can flow from World Heritage in the world today and in 2021.

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