Thought Leadership Forum II: Recap

Final Report

On Monday, July 20, AAF’s Center for Design and Cultural Heritage held its second Thought Leadership Forum, “Storytelling, Design, and Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century,” in Washington, DC. During the forum, preservationists, policy-makers, and other cultural heritage stakeholders discussed storytelling’s role in greater preservation advocacy.

The forum drew on AAF’s current partnership with the National Park Service and Save America’s Treasures. Over 20 attendees brought a variety of perspectives to storytelling’s role and impact in preservation, and discussed how audience, technology, narrative and advocacy can be used tactically to broaden preservation’s reach and ensure its livelihood in years to come.

To best position preservation as a thriving field in the 21st century, participants agreed that utilizing new media technologies was key to grow interest.  These technological mediums allow users the opportunity to engage directly with stories. For example, contemporary preservation narratives often utilize a call to action for readers to make donation to help preserve a local cultural site. Users may also utilize self-guided walking tour smartphone apps that enable them to actively situate themselves into these stories and their historical and cultural contexts and futures.

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While social media is often touted as the universal answer for greater exposure, its usage must be used strategically depending on an organization’s purpose and audience.  Julia Rocchi, Director of Digital Content for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, shared of her organization’s experience using Pinterest, “Our social media team finally did the metrics on it, and even with regular posting, there is no added traffic. Having that data has been really important to determine which social media channels to use.”  Indeed, determining which platforms a target audience uses – and then telling the story using that platform – can yield a broader impact, but quality narratives are necessary to generate interest from the audience.

The narratives that are used to uplift preservation’s efforts can also shape the impact and reach of the stories being told. Using Monticello as an example, one participant explained that as Thomas Jefferson’s legacy has become complicated by his relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman owned by Jefferson, the stories promoted by his estate have changed to accommodate these details. Expanding the stories being told to include a broader range of perspectives broadens the potential for new interest in the field.

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Participants also agreed that expanding preservation’s meaning can further preservation advocacy in the coming decades. While “historic preservation” for many connotes strictly preserving the past rather than also looking to the future, attendees agreed that contextualizing preservation’s role in place-making and sustainable urbanism can solidify its relevance in the 21st century.

A full report summarizing the forum’s proceedings will be available in the coming weeks. For more information on the Thought Leadership Forum Series or on the Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, please contact CDCH Director Thom Minner at

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Posted in: Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, Print, Thought Leadership Forums
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