Break The Echo Chamber

With all of the historic preservation conferences offered, how does one determine what conference will most benefit his/her historic preservation career? Every year I look at the growing list of historic preservation specialized conferences and try to determine, which can fit into my budget and will benefit my continuing education. With the different specializations in historic preservation (surveying, trades, advocacy, etc.,) it would make sense to go to the conference with a focus that pairs with one’s specialty, but I propose that it may be hindrance to professional growth.

If historic preservationists are always talking to peers who have similar backgrounds and training, our field will become an echo chamber. Why shouldn’t an advocate have the opportunity to learn more about commissions or a SHPO employee have the opportunity learn from nonprofit directors? Many conferences are experiencing dwindling conference registration, and I posit that the echo chambers are hindering continued growth for the historic preservation field and impacting conference attendance.

As you plan your conference attendance for 2018/19, consider adding the following items to your consideration criteria:

  • Is the conference multi-disciplinary?
  • Will there be opportunities for you to have conversations with people outside your specialization?
  • Are the sessions delving into topics you cannot learn independently through webinars, case studies, etc.?

In addition to these questions, consider attending a conference that is “outside” our field. Last fall Raina Regan of the National Trust for Historic Preservation attended the Land Trust Rally to learn a different perspective to conservation and easements. You can read about her experience here.  Learning about her experience inspired me to look outside the box of preservation conferences for what I need. This past weekend I attended the Midwest Craft Con. Why did a historic preservationist decide to attend a craft conference? When I launched the Tiny Jane Project last year, I found an opportunity to fuse my passion for preservation and craft. The Tiny Jane Project is intended to introduce new people to historical figures of the past, so what better way to learn how to reach new audiences than a non-preservation conference! Preservation conferences do not offer courses in business, creating customers, having a successful online presence, and other topics necessary for the development of a consulting firm.

As the historic preservation movement continues to grow, educational opportunities should be diversified and available to historic preservationists. Challenge yourself to learn more about an aspect of preservation you are not as familiar with or attend a conference that may allow you to learn how to make your preservation efforts more interdisciplinary. If you are a conference/workshop coordinator consider new partnerships to facilitate this growth.