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Save America’s Treasures: Impact and Lessons



The American Architectural Foundation’s (AAF) Center for Design & Cultural Heritage is pleased to release an important new study of Save America’s Treasures (SAT) grants given to collection’s based projects between 1999-2010. 

This study was made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. To complete the research portion of the study, AAF worked with Ithaka S+R. We would also like to thank our colleagues at the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for their assistance and guidance throughout this process.

Although the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) accomplished a great deal in preserving structures and places since it became law in 1966, until the creation of Save America’s Treasures in 1999 the ephemeral nature of the performing arts and the fragility of films, paintings, prints, sculpture, books, manuscripts and other intellectual and cultural property were not a part of the NHPA’s focus. Save America’s Treasures built on the NHPA’s legacy and expanded its focus to become the first and only federal program designed specifically to honor and preserve our nation’s most significant structures and places, as well as collections, artifacts and artistic works.

“Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge.”

Benjamin Franklin

Save America’s Treasures in its body of work captures the breadth, diversity and history of this nation’s achievements, democratic values and struggles. With the Mellon Foundation’s generous support, AAF and the Ithaka team were able to conduct the first assessment of some of SAT’s hundreds of collections projects. Although the abundance of stories and themes in these projects are too many to enumerate, the intent of this study was to capture crucial knowledge and perspective not only on what SAT has preserved, but also the impacts of SAT’s leadership and funding on the institutions and their communities.

As demonstrated in this study, funding for new projects not only will save important artifacts, documents, artistic works, and stories that might otherwise be lost for posterity, but will also allow access for all Americans to these pieces of our country’s rich cultural heritage.

More American treasures need saving and the Save America’s Treasures program is a proven funding vehicle to achieve these goals for Americans today and for generations to come.

To download the study, please click here.

Save America’s Treasures is managed by the National Park Service and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The American Architectural Foundation, has been SAT’s nonprofit partner since 2014, and is on a mission to tell the stories behind the Save America’s Treasures grants. Working with the National Park Service and its Save America’s Treasures partner agencies, we are working to increase public understanding and visibility of this critical program and the role it plays in preserving our most significant cultural, intellectual and heritage resources.

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Posted in: Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, Print, Save America's Treasures

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.