Friday, June 19, 2015

Andalusia Farm and the World

Context: Part Two

Last month, I wrote about the micro-context of the farm and the preservation and conservation mandate of the Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation (FOCA). This week, I want to share the macro-context of the world-wide network of historic sites and house museums and the ways in which this ‘industry’ (yes, it is an industry, albeit a largely non-profit one) is served and guided by professionals and best practices.

In late April, 2015, 4500 museum professionals from all over the country (including over 400 from 57 countries outside the U.S.) converged on Atlanta for the Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). I have been an active member of the AAM since 1978. I joined while I was an undergraduate at Boston University, majoring in art history with a concentration in museum studies. I remained active through graduate school (art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts) and as I began my career as a curator, and later director. As an instructor in Tufts University’s museum studies program, I had the pleasure of introducing students to the field and was thrilled to see some of my former students (now working in a variety of museum positions across the country) at the AAM meeting in Atlanta.

My colleague at Andalusia, April Moon Carlson, is also a product of a museum studies program at University of West Georgia. In tandem with her graduate work in Public History, museum studies provided April with valuable training in all the functional areas of work at Andalusia: collections care (yes, with peafowl and diverse flora and fauna, we have both living and non-living collections), interpretation, and visitor services. It was April’s first time at AAM’s annual meeting, a professional development opportunity that was not to be missed for someone just beginning her career.

Six months before the annual meeting, I served on AAM’s National Program Committee. Professionals from across the country gathered last fall in Atlanta at the Woodruff Center for the Arts where over two days we hashed out the content of the annual meeting, an amazing feat when one considers the scale of the conference: 190 sessions over four days. My involvement with AAM also extends to the professional networks on historic houses and on environmental sustainability (I was on the founding board of the latter group and am in my final year as co-chair). I also am a frequent contributor to AAM’s bimonthly publication, Museum.

Andalusia Farm benefits immeasurably when staff are knowledgeable and have a network among industry groups. Regionally, we are members of the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries (GAMG), my predecessor Craig Amason served on the board of this organization, and of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) serving twelve southern states.

FOCA has been a long-time member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), a nonprofit organization founded in 1949 to advocate for preservation and to save America's historic places. I have also been active with NTHP for many years, often as a conference presenter on the merger of preservation and environmentally sustainable practice.

Last fall, the NTHP conference was held in Savannah. I was an eager attendee as I participated in a variety of sessions helpful to running Andalusia and engaged with the network I have cultivated over many years. A member of that network came in handy just yesterday as I sought preliminary information about a Historic Structures Report (that is ‘preservation speak’ for a very specific research document that typically precedes important preservation capital projects) for the main house at the farm.

We are also members of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). This organization is a helpful resource and offers a multitude of tools, tips, techniques and resources for professional development and training for boards, staff and volunteers at historic sites and house museums. AASLH’s imprint, Rowman and Littlefield, published a book I co-authored.: “The Green Museum: A Primer on Environmental Practice,” now in its second edition. Andalusia is also featured as a case study in AASLH’s newly published “Environmental Sustainability at Historic Sites and Museums.”

On the international front, I have been a member of the International Council on Museums (ICOM) for years. Through my participation in DEMHIST (an ICOM International Committee focusing upon the conservation and management of house museums; its name derives from the French term "demeures historiques") I am informed about innovative approaches to preservation, conservation, and interpretation among historic house museums across the globe. We share similar challenges and learn from one another as we seek to insure our sites are viable now and into the future.

Now and into the future?

That is what we, as professionals, are concerned with: how do we create relevance at our sites so visitors come, engage, and support us … now and into the future? This is a tall order. To succeed, we need every tool available and look to the broader context of historic sites and house museums for models and ideas for approaches at Andalusia. After all, we are not alone.

-- Elizabeth Wylie, Executive Director, The Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation

Elizabeth Wylie standing atop the "green roof" at Southface with PIC GREEN at the 2015 AAM conference

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