Ideas for Cultural Heritage Advocacy
Kudos and thanks to Professor Benjamin Filene, Director of Public History in the Museum Studies Program at UNC Greensboro for his recent op-ed piece in the News & Observer. Filene lamented legislative actions that have shrunk spending on cultural heritage in recent years, with especially painful cuts to our state’s Department of Cultural Resources divisions—the NC Museum of History and NC Historic Sites.
Museum guru Nina Simon, currently Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, has pinpointed two beneficial results, or “ripple effects,” that healthy cultural sectors provide for their communities. (Although Simon’s discussion focused on arts organizations, these same arguments can apply to the value of state and local history institutions.)
- “A vibrant, thriving economy: Neighborhoods are more lively, communities are revitalized, tourists and residents are attracted to the area, etc. Note that this goes well beyond the usual dollars-and-cents argument.”
- “A more connected population: Diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives, understand each other better, etc.”
In the conclusion to his op-ed piece, Filene discussed a third ripple effect.
- the added layers of meaning that cultural sites and programs can offer to individual lives: “The arts and culture sustain our sense of who we are individually and collectively – of where we came from as a people and our sense of possibility for what we might yet become.”
As difficult as it is to quantify the economic impacts of cultural organization, these additional “ripple effects” are purely subjective and qualitative. As proponents of North Carolina history and culture, we can also argue that our museums and historic sites foster a greater sense of place for everyone, and this point builds upon both Simon’s and Filene’s ideas. Cultural heritage institutions make us all aware of the stratigraphic layers of human occupation on this land. In our hyper-mobile, electronically linked world, a connection to the land is a universal human truth that most of us do not want to evade completely. The reminders of that bond and how people have re-shaped it over time can help to sustain and enrich our communities—leaving the work we do vital and evolving.
What other ideas do you have to help justify public spending on cultural heritage? What arguments have had some success in your own communities?