Spreading the Word of Historic Site(s) Specific

Scenes from If These Walls Could Talk, Staci Bernstein and Jane Kaplan, 2012 © Becka Brebner
Scenes from If These Walls Could Talk, Staci Bernstein and Jane Kaplan, 2012 © Becka Brebner
Scene from If These Walls Could Talk, Staci Bernstein and Jane Kaplan, 2012 © Becka Brebner

What happens when imagination takes flight at historic sites? What kinds of electric connections spark when artists tailor their creative impulses to heritage places? Recently, King County has witnessed responses to these queries through 4Culture’s Historic Site(s) Specific program, where successful projects enhanced, reinterpreted, raised public awareness, and drew new audiences to often-overlooked, but culturally significant sites.

But the other question is: What happens when three staff members from distinct disciplines join with site stewards and artists to spread the word about this innovative program to local, state and regional gatherings of the cultural community? That’s what Flo Lentz (Preservation), Charlie Rathbun (Arts), and Eric Taylor (Heritage), did this year in PowerPoint presentations for the Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO), Washington Heritage Conference, Cultural Congress, Washington Museum Association Conference, and Western Museums Association Annual Meeting. Assisting the 4Culture team on different occasions were site stewards Patricia Cosgrove (Mary Olson Farm), Linda Van Nest (Neely Mansion), and Karen Bouton (Saar Pioneer Cemetery); and artists Stacy Bernstein, Jane Kaplan, and Keri Healey.

Thresholds, Frances Nelson and Bradly Gunn © 2013, Saar Pioneer Cemetary, Photo by 4Culture
Thresholds, Frances Nelson and Bradly Gunn © 2013, Saar Pioneer Cemetary, Photo by 4Culture

At each venue, the presentation team demonstrated the effectiveness of the program and the varieties of expression it engenders. Presenters cited examples from last year’s competitive application round: a dance company teaming with a historic mansion; installation artists working in a cemetery; Butoh performers infiltrating an active train depot museum; and a sculptor erecting a temporary piece at an abandoned mine hoist.

With proselytizing verve, the panel of experts spoke of Historic Site(s) Specific’s innovative approach, where instead of artists proposing the location, site stewards posted descriptive information to a roster and invited inquiries and ideas from creative types interested in exploring the unique history or architecture of a particular place. Panelists noted the rewarding outcomes for audiences, and how the truly collaborative nature of the program stretches the thinking of both site stewards and creative partners.

© 2012 Gentlemen Desperado, Keri Healey, Mary Olson Farm, White River Valley Museum, Tiffany Diamond Photography
© 2012 Gentlemen Desperado, Keri Healey, Mary Olson Farm, White River Valley Museum, Tiffany Diamond Photography

In their presentations, the speakers’ differing viewpoints revealed the creative tension that fuels the development and implementation of site specific projects, thus providing inside/outside perspectives of the program. Panel participants engaged audience members in a dialog about the mutual and universal benefits of enacting a program like Historic Site(s) Specific and encouraged attendees to adapt this innovative model for their own situations and locales.