Days Like These Don't Come Very Often

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Image of Richard in front of the schloss

Yesterday I arrived in Salzburg, Austria to attend the Salzburg Global  Seminar,  Connecting to the World's Collections: Making the Case for the Conservation and Preservation of our Cultural Heritage,  and today the seminar started  (unfortunately, no, I'm not staying in a room inside the Schloss Leopoldskron, but I'm in a handsome building right next door). In a matter of a few hours of being here I met countless smart and inspirational people, literally from all over the world.

But what really made today special is that I was able to take the time to step back and consider a broader, fuller picture of what it means to preserve our cultural property and to care for our global heritage. My hope is that you will take a moment to join me and consider some of the questions that are being raised here, and also give some feedback in the effort of finding new solutions. In my previous posts, I've asked for you thoughts on readings and even invited you to write a bit about global heritage - I'm still quite  interested  in your feedback on those two topics, but we must also move forward.

I know that this thinking - the ability to grab a kind of new mental space - comes at a premium that few get to enjoy. I know because back at home, my day-to-day usually consists of working with an eye perilously close to the grindstone, focusing on my daily work, working on the projects that need to be accomplished right now in order to meet my museum's exhibition needs and mission.   In short I often work on whatever problem seems to be the biggest, so taking a time to reflect is a real luxury. Irrespective of this fact, please join me and forget those kinds of problems for a minute and start to think about the "big issues."

Today - whether justifiably or not - I was treated like a global leader in the field and, with a number of experienced leaders in the field, was made to feel as if our group could consider, question, and accomplish what matters most to our own institutions - to our own communities - and that we would be able to find better ways to preserve what we call our global heritage. Consider yourself part of this group.

The introduction to our seminar began with clear statements and provocative questions by (from left to right at the front of the room) Edward Mortimer,  Debra Hess Norris,  Vinod Daniel,  Anne-Imelda Radice, Nancy Rogers (at the podium), and Susanna Seidle-Fox (seated in the front table with the green scarf).

The context of our work was outlined and two primary questions were presented in an effort to find a declarative mission for our symposium. What do you have to say to these two questions?

1)           Why should we preserve our global heritage?

2)           What specific activity can build on or strengthen our preservation work?

I've been given a blank note card in which I'm to write my responses, but you are given the comment section of this blog.

The keynote speaker for this symposium was Lonnie Bunch.   He gave a commanding, inventive, and  inspirational  talk on his efforts to realize the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will open on the Washington, D.C. mall in 2015.

What I took away from Mr. Bunch's keynote presentation was a personal sense of his unflinching aspiration to represent African-American history within the context of the history of the United States.

Mr. Bunch discussed the variety of perspectives on this history, even the one that suggested that "America's greatest strength is its ability to forget." As he explained, this point of view was given to him via a personal letter expressing clear disagreement with his mandate to start the museum. Of course, his talk countered these ideas and outlined the importance, significance, and meaning of maintaining memories related to topics in U.S. history that some would rather forget. He demonstrated the importance of difficult memories, and the particular significance of physical objects to trigger and represent memories and experiences that are long past.

He reminded us that a museum's "greatest challenge - its greatest gift - is the power to help remember our personal history."

Finally, he said, in pointing to the mission of the  Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, that "in fact, we don't really need to erect a great African-American museum; what we need to do is erect a museum that sings for all Americans."

It's easy to relate Mr. Bunch's mission to our global heritage, to say that what we need to do is find ways to better articulate our missions and find ways to sing our personal memories and connect them into a global consciousness. Clearly, his talk has provided our group a sense of perspective and  tremendous  purpose.

However, I'd like to say that all was not heavy-minded tonight.   We were given a fantastic tour of the Schloss Leopolskon by Ian Brown.   I've made a Flickr set of the images I took on the tour.

Click on this link to see my tour.

Plus, here's a very short introductory video that I made with Ian after everyone had gone to dinner:

Finally, I would be remiss not to tell you of the musical portion of today's program: Joyce Hill Stoner gave us a conservator's interpretation of a rather famous song, as only she can do.   Have a listen for yourself: