An excellent meeting was held on April 7 at the Wallace Center, Hyde Park with the history community in the Hudson Valley and Meghan Taylor, the new director for the Mid-Hudson Region Economic Development Council (REDC).
The subject of the meeting was MONEY: what funding does New York State have and how can the history community apply for it? A second purpose was to introduce Meghan to the history community and the community to her.
The 2015 REDC funding guidelines are not yet available. There will be workshops on them once they are. Those workshops will be for all sectors in the region and not just the history community.
In the meantime, Meghan was able to provide information about what has transpired in the previous cycles. Funding for a host of state organizations is now applied for through a single form. The Mid-Hudson REDC screens these applications for eligibility and then forwards the valid ones to Albany. This is a competitive process. If you are applying for funding from NYSOPRHP (State Parks), for example, you are competing with others throughout the state applying for the same funding that has been allocated to State Parks.
Last year, the Mid-Hudson Region received 389 applications of which 112 were approved for funding. This covers all areas and not just history. The total awarded was over $80 million and the region fared quite well in competition with the other nine regions which have been established.
Once the guidelines are issued, there will be a six to eight week window to complete them. Group allocations are permitted, but one entity must be designated the lead. Some of the awards are based on reimbursement, meaning the funds need to spent up-front by the applicant who then requests reimbursement. This is particularly true for capital investments. REDC awards generally do not exceed 40% of the total cost of the project.
Meghan suggested that the three buckets of funding that the history community likely would apply for are Parks, Arts, and Market NY. In my series here at The New York History Blog on REDC awards for 2014, I devoted three posts to these categories as well as to what else was being funded. You may want to reread these posts to get a sense of what is being funded – you can find them here.
New York State has stories to tell. It has experiences to share with people seeking authenticity in their vacations. Our job is to tell those stories in a cooperative and collaborative way that would attract the interest of tour operators.
The odds are your site alone isn’t a destination site outside your local community but together with others it is possible to create one-day, weekend, and week-long experiences that could include you. Think of what you seek when you travel to another country especially once you leave the capital city.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NOW?
1. Call a County Meeting
The next step is to call county-level meetings of the history community with the county tourist department. You need to know what the priority is for history tourism in your county.
Are there volunteers willing to host such a meeting either at their own place or who are willing to locate a free meeting place in your county?
Contact your county tourism department about attending such a meeting and determining a date.
2. Support Pathfinders
I recommended the creation of Pathfinders. These would be people who would have the job of creating history tourism itineraries. They would not be bound to a single site but would scout sites to determine what the stories are we have to tell, where we would tell them, how long would it take to tell them, how people would get from one location to another, where people would eat, and where would they sleep.
The Greater Hudson Heritage Network is investigating this possibility of applying to the REDC for the creation of such a position and the application would be stronger if it were submitted as a collaborative effort involving all the counties in the region.
3. Think Elderhostel
At the Path through History meeting in January, 2013, also at the Wallace Center and chaired by Mark Castiglione of Hudson River Valley Greenway and Mary Kay Verba of the Dutchess County tourism department, both of whom also attended the April 7 meeting, the attendees overwhelmingly expressed adopting the elderhostel model as a benchmark for developing history tourism programs.
Still the model is valid. Keep your local colleges in mind too especially if they have summer dorms available. Go online here to see the New York State programs. It should be possible to create a slew of such programs in our region.
4. Make Collaborative Event Plans
The Hudson River Ramble, Path Through History Weekends, Erie Canal Splash, and similar projects provide an excellent opportunity to develop collaborative plans. Instead of submitting events in a hodge-podge manner scattered across many days, think cooperatively as if you were planning a visit for someone to your community. You wouldn’t ask them to come four times over 8 days for 1-2 hours each. Plan a day or weekend program in your community or in partnership with a neighboring one.
5. Think Transportation
Take advantage of the mass of people in New York City who are eager to go upstate. What happens when they get off the train? Let’s make life easy for them by planning a day of activities that begins and ends at the train stop in each community. Maybe people will even stay over for the weekend. And once we have these day programs, it will be easier to combine them to create week-long experiences. Shuttle buses and trolleys can be considered for the CFA application, but in the meantime it’s possible to rent vans, school buses, or other transportation options.
What does all this mean?
It means this is the moment when the rubber hits the road. This is time when the history community has to act, to act not just individually but collectively. This is time when the history community needs to advocate on its own behalf. There are tools the history community can use to make its voice heard. Now is the time to speak up.