Restructuring US/ICOMOS in the Face of COVID-19 and the World that Will Follow

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

We at US/ICOMOS grieve for those who are sick, those who are frightened, those who are alone, those we have lost, and those that we will lose. It becomes increasingly clear that that the world will be a different place at the end of this pandemic. It is possible that it will be better; this crisis should tell us that we are all connected, the rich and the poor, all countries, and that we must help each other in the future if there is to be a future.

The challenges facing US/ICOMOS might appear unimportant when compared to those facing so many people and organizations all over the world. Nonetheless, we are the stewards of US/ICOMOS, and as such are obliged to move quickly to reorganize in ways that will let us continue our work through the next year to 18 months and at the end emerge ready to operate in a changed world. US/ICOMOS will have a role. It will be more important than ever to work for the economic and social benefits and the international understanding that can flow from World Heritage.

Over the past two weeks, the US/ICOMOS Treasurer, Ellen Delage, and I have been gathering financial information and doing a fine-grained analysis of it that was necessary to apply for a Washington, DC stimulus loan available to non-profits. That has now been submitted, and we will apply for any others as those opportunities become available. It has become clear from this exercise that we will experience extraordinary financial difficulties in 2020. At the last Board meeting on February 7, 2010, it was apparent that US/ICOMOS was in dire financial straits. We began plans to enhance our finances, little suspecting the scope of the global pandemic and associated economic crisis that has emerged since then. In 2020, we will realize no income from the Celebration of World Heritage and the annual Conference and Symposium. We will try to increase membership or at least retain members that we have, but our success will be uncertain at best. As the economy declines, we can anticipate that securing donations will become more difficult. In the recession of 2008-2009, contributions to non-profits declined by 40 billion dollars.

Actions taken by US/ICOMOS will include these:

  • Cutting operating costs as much as possible. This is at present the highest priority, we are losing ground with each day that passes.
  • Putting together a team that will apply for loans and grants associated with COVID-19 relief programs. We must bear in mind that there will be intense competition for these grants and that even if an award is made, delays are likely, given the heavy demands that will be imposed on state and federal workers.
  • Relying on efforts by all US/ICOMOS members, including Board of Trustees members and Board committee chairs.
  • Embracing an age when meetings, conferences, and advocacy will be done primarily by digital means, many of which are mature technologies but unused by US/ICOMOS in the past.

We will move ahead quickly on all of these fronts. I ask for your strong support as we do so. We know that we are up to the challenges ahead and that we will emerge as an organization with greater capacity to advance the goals of the World Heritage Convention.


Douglas C. Comer, Ph.D.
President, US/ICOMOS
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