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Upcoming History Advocacy, Conferences and Events

George Washington Leading People to the First New York State History Conference

The start of the new year means the start of a series of annual advocacy, conferences, and events related to history in New York State. Some of these events target specific areas within the history community such as preservation, museums, and tourism. Since there is no New York State history advocacy day or conference by itself, it can only be addressed piecemeal. The examination of what is being done illustrates what needs to be done if the history community is to have a voice in Albany.

February 5: Preservation Advocacy Day (Legislative Office Building, Albany)

The Preservation League of New York State has an office and staff located in Albany. It has been in operation since 1974. This will be my first time participating in this advocacy day.

Join the Preservation League of New York State as we make our Voices of Preservation heard at the New York State Capitol – so our past has a future!

​8:30 a.m.  Program begins (LOB room 104-A). Refreshments provided.
Welcome:               Jay DiLorenzo, President, Preservation League
Brief Remarks:     Senator Timothy Kennedy
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner
Assemblymember Patricia Fahy
Assemblymember John McDonald
Daniel Mackay, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, OPRHP
Legislative Brief:   Erin Tobin, Vice President for Policy & Preservation

9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Meet with Senators/Members of Assembly or their staff.

2019 Advocacy Priorities:
Direct Transfer of historic tax credits
Increased tax credit for small projects
Qualifying cities to use tax credit
Vacant Buildings
Urger Advocacy

12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Lunch provided & opportunity to share how the meetings went.

February 6 Monuments of the Future? Alternative Approaches (The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York)

Looking for solutions to the dilemma about how to confront and constructively address ‘difficult’ places of memory and, in some cases, their absence, this panel presentation will offer real and virtual alternative approaches that use different media to promote a public dialogue about how and what we remember. The speakers represent projects and institutions that encompass local and national efforts, providing possible models as well as obstacles to public education and participation in New York City.

The final panel in the ‘Difficult Histories’ series co-presented with the American Social History Project and the Public History Collective at The Graduate Center, with funding provided by Humanities New York

I attended a previous evening conference on this topic in the fall. My reporting on that event in a blog is past due. If I am able to attend this one I will try to combine the two conferences. The issue of monuments may not apply to every community in New York but it is an issue of both historic preservation and history memory. What does each community decide to commemorate and what not to commemorate and why.

February 16 George Washington’s Birthday Symposium (Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Johnstown)

The Fort Plain Museum has been conducting annual conferences including bus tours on the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley for several years. I think I have attended three of them as well as had a teacher program on the topic which is when I first became aware of the Fort Plain Museum. This small volunteer organization has been working tirelessly to promote not just the story of the American Revolution but history tourism in the Mohawk Valley.

This inaugural event starts at 8:15 am and will end at 3:30 pm. Admission fees are $35 for advance registration, $40 at the door and there is a discounted rate for students of $20. The admission fee includes a lunch sandwich buffet and refreshment breaks. There will be an author book signing with books available for purchase.

Edward G. Lengel, “Setting the Example: George Washington’s Military Leadership”
Bruce Chadwick, “George & Martha”
William Larry Kidder, “George Washington’s Ten Crucial Days: Trenton and Princeton”
Norman J. Bollen, “George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier”

To register, send an email to fortplainmuseum@yahoo.com with your name, phone number, email address, city and state. A check can be made out to and sent to the Fort Plain Museum, Attn: GW BDAY, PO Box 324, Fort Plain, NY 13339. It also accept credit cards by phone, 518-774-5669 (if no answer, please leave a message). Visit www.fortplainmuseum.com for details.

March 2 Historic Districts Council Preservation Conference (Manhattan)

The Historic Districts Council (HDC) is the advocate for all of New York City’s historic neighborhoods. Its mission is to ensure the preservation of significant historic neighborhoods, buildings and public spaces in New York City, to uphold the integrity of New York City’s Landmarks Law, and to further the preservation ethic.

HDC has a staff and office in Manhattan and has been in operation since 1970. I do not know what its exact working relationship is with the Preservation League of New York State is. As you may suspect, there are a number of preservation organizations throughout the state. I do maintain a separate email distribution list for them as best I can and do not distribute all my history blogs to that list. By coincidence, in the state preservation advocacy day on February 5, I have been assigned to the New York City pool. That means I will be part of the group meeting with the New York City legislators. HDC tends to focus on NYC Council members and the local landmark commission.

This day-long (9:30-3:30) conference will dive into a range of topics and of-the-moment campaigns to preserve communities and sites throughout the city, with sessions led by the participants themselves, as well as two planned panels, on engaging people with new sites in old ways, and positive and negative rezoning experiences. Participant-led sessions means people put up a signup sheet on a bulletin board and attendees sign up for the sessions that interest them.

Old Places, New Faces: Innovative Means of Engaging the Public with Historic Sites

Mathew Coody, Historic House Trust – Moderator
Lisa Alpert, Greenwood Cemetery
John Boulware, South Street Seaport Museum
Dylan Thuras, Atlas Obscura

Zoning, for Better or for Worse: How Rezonings have Negatively and Positively Affected Communities

Andrew Berman, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation – Moderator
Chris Cirillo, East Harlem
Ethel Tyus, Crown Heights

The conference will be held at, 185 West Broadway, New York. You can register here.

I attended last year and wrote a blog about it.

March 4 Park Advocacy Day (Empire State Plaza, Albany)

Parks & Trails is another advocacy group with staff and an office in Albany. Its focus is on the New York States Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). Its advocacy is almost exclusively on the parks, both scenic and recreational, and not on the historic sites operated by NYSOPRHP or historic preservation. I have seen NYSOPRHP at historic preservation conferences. By attending the preservation and parks advocacy days one month apart I will have an opportunity to see if history and historic preservation are represented in any of the presentations or advocacy efforts. In my next blog I will be reporting on NYSOPRHP REDC awards for 2018.

Join Parks & Trails New York and the Open Space Institute’s Alliance for New York State

Parks Program in Albany help send a message of support for New York’s state parks and historic sites! As a park advocate, you’ll join other park supporters from across the state and meet with policymakers to stress the importance of supporting funding for state parks. Your efforts will impact legislators as they make important decisions about parks.

9:30 – 9:45      Hart Theatre Lounge The Egg Center for Performing Arts Empire State Plaza
9:45 – 11:00    Welcome, Orientation & Invited Speakers
11:00 – 11:45  Lunch (provided)
11:45 – 12:00  Meet Your Team (organized by NYSOPRHP regions so I am in the Taconic)
12:30 – 4:00    Appointments with Policymakers

I notice that Preservation League of New York State has a debriefing session for the entire group at the end of day whereas Parks & Trails does not.

For more info and to register contact: Sarah Braymer: 518-434-1583 | sbraymer@ptny.org.

March 7-9 New York State Council for the Social Studies (Albany)

The annual conference of social studies teachers and supervisors will be held in Albany. A detailed schedule is not available on the website at this time. I suspect local and state history will not have a significant presence at the conference. Even though history organizations are chartered through the Education Department and both schools and museums are part of the Regents bailiwick, this is one area where silos defines the arrangement. If New York promoted local and state history, then the state conference and various regional social studies conferences would be logical venues for history organizations to present and have display tables. But that is not the way of the real world and there is no state history organization advocating that it should be.

March 12 Tourism Action Day (Renaissance Albany Hotel, Albany)

The New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association (NYSHTA) is the oldest state lodging association in the country. Founded in 1887 in Saratoga Springs, NYSHTA originally represented New York State’s lodging industry. Today the association includes members from nearly all segments of the tourism industry. NYSHTA represents more than 1,100 members including hotels, motels, resorts, conference centers, country inns, bed & breakfast establishments, reservation service organizations, amusement parks, attractions, museums, ski areas, recreational facilities, historical sites, convention and visitor bureaus, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, hospitality students and suppliers to the industry.

Bring your voice to Albany on March 12th to educate your legislators on the importance of tourism to the state’s economy. Tourism is a priority for our state, show the Legislature it’s your priority too. Come and tell your elected officials you need their support both statewide and at the local level.

Breakfast Buffet Meeting from 8:30-10:00 AM at the Renaissance Albany Hotel with Legislative
Legislative meeting for all attendees will be arranged by NYSHTA.

This represents a change. In the past, individual participants were on their own to arrange meetings with state legislators. The first time I attended I did not know that so I had to scramble. Fortunately I was able to meet the same people I had just met with on the Parks & Trail advocacy day. It always is prior to the tourism one. I learned to make an appointment for Tourism Day as I left the meeting for Parks Advocacy Day. This year I will not have to.

This advocacy day charges a fee to participate whereas the other ones do not. You can register here.

I should also add that based on previous meetings I have attended as well as the Tourism Advisory Council meetings I have attended, history tourism is not a priority.

April 7-9 Access & Identity (Museum Association of New York, Cooperstown)

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. It provides advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

MANY is located in Troy, not far from Albany, and has a staff. It has an annual conference held in different regions throughout the state. It has a lobbyist and used to have conference telephone calls with the lobbyist on what is going on. It does participate in a federal advocacy program in Washington each February along with museum organizations from around the country. To the best of my knowledge it does not have a museum advocacy day in Albany as the parks, preservation, and tourism sectors do.

The annual conference is a multiday event with concurrent sessions reflecting the different interests of the museum community. Although MANY does serve art museums, science museums, zoos, and aquariums, the presentations tend to by history organizations and museums. The registration fee will be a couple of hundred dollars and the early registration period ends February 22. Since it is multiday conference, there is likely to be lodging expense unless you have to live in the area. Typically, I attend this conference.

To register go to MANY

TBD Conference on New York State History

The image for this post comes from the Facebook page of the Conference on New York State History. According to the Facebook page:

New York State Historical Association, the most recent sponsor of the Conference on New York State History, is defunct as of March 14, 2017. See http://www.nyhistory.net

The Conference on New York State History has a history of its own. People began meeting informally in the 1890s and the New York State Historical Association was an outgrowth of the Conference of 1899 at Lake George. For many years the annual Conference and the annual meeting of NYSHA coincided, but by the 1950s the annual meeting of NYSHA no longer contained much historical content and the “College Conference” first met as an independent group in Cooperstown in 1957. The College Conference met annually, with the Office of State History (defunct 1977) as lead sponsor. The last College Conference was held at Syracuse University in 1978.

The Conference began a new series in April of 1980 at SUNY Binghamton. Stefan Bielinski of the NYS Museum coordinated the Conference through 2002, when the Conference continued with Field Horne coordinating. Mr. Horne secured partnerships with the former NYSHA, The Archives Partnership Trust, and Humanities New York (was New York Humanities Council), with NYSHA taking the lead in 2012. After the 2012 Conference at Niagara University, NYSHA attempted to coordinate the Conference but this failed by 2016, when a joint Researching New York – Conference on NYS History meeting was held at the University at Albany (SUNY Albany).

Plans for the future are unclear.

The events chosen for this post are state and regional oriented. It focuses in particular on the advocacy days in Albany which occur annually in February and March. Perhaps one day there will be a New York State history advocacy day. Perhaps one day there will be a New York State history organization. Perhaps one day there will be a Conference on New York State History. Perhaps one day hell will freeze over just as it has outside today

Advocating for State and Local History: A Regional Case Study

Long Island History (Patchogue-Medford Library)

How should the history community advocate on its behalf? Perhaps instead of focusing at the state level for the advocacy for state and local history, one should think smaller. In this post, I wish to address the recent example by the Long Island history community and to make some suggestions about the next steps. Long Island is a region of millions so it is bigger than most of the other regions in New York State with the exception of New York City. It some ways, it may be considered comparable in size to a state.

A few months ago, an email notice went out announcing the Long Island Historian Summit.

INVITATION

You are cordially invited to a one-day summit of assigned Long Island county, town, city, borough and village historians.

According to the press report on the meeting (see below):

New York law requires that incorporated villages, towns and boroughs have their own historian, said Howard Kroplick, historian for the Town of North Hempstead and an event co-organizer. However, the law does not dictate what kinds of resources those historians should have or how the job should work. According to a survey Kroplick conducted of 22 village and nine town historians, job descriptions and salaries widely range. Most of the historians said they worked part time, and 27 percent never release any kind of report on the work they have done. More than 90 percent of village historians work from home and almost none are paid. Kroplick said his survey also found that the top two concerns among the surveyed historians were saving historic buildings and projects and obtaining funding and resources.

The purpose of the conference was to assist this particular segment of the history community.

This conditional invitation restricted the attendance to these municipal historians in Long Island. The invitation did not extend to the history community at large in Long Island. Other regions in New York have conducted regional history meetings under the rubric of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS). My experience with them has been that meetings in the region were open to the general history community and to affiliate members of APHNYS such as myself. There is no right or wrong way to organize such meetings. It is at the discretion of each region. For a first time effort, it was reasonable to restrict the potential audience.

It should be noted that Long Island contains a huge number of villages, towns, and not-so-large cities, and two counties. According to Kroplick, of the 117 municipalities in the two counties, there are 72 appointed historians. The compliance rate with the state regulation is 62% meaning 38% of the municipalities are in violation of the law.

Since Brooklyn and Queens are part of the island, the borough historians were also invited.

The attendance was 65 people. That number far exceeds the regional meetings I have attended elsewhere even when open to the general history community. It was the largest meeting of Long Island historians ever and, according to Devin Lander, New York State historian, likely the largest gathering of local historians at a New York State regional meeting. Kudos to Long Island for showing up in force.

FUNDING

The Long Island Historian Summit, sponsored by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, will be held on Saturday, June 30, 2018 to provide an opportunity to discuss challenges, opportunities and experiences relevant to their positions.

One immediately notices here a critical element in the advocacy process – funding. A local Long Island foundation decided to sponsor the meeting. The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, provides financial support for historical preservation projects around Long Island. It supported a county history class at the Nassau Community College (a class every community college should offer). It funded and helped organize the event. A representative from that foundation is on my email distribution list. A few months ago, I had the chance to meet her at a regional meet-up held at the 9/11 Memorial organized by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). The Foundation definitely is interested in statewide advocacy and has been following the deteriorating situation in New York State. I reported on that subject in a series of blogs written before I attended the recent conference by the Massachusetts History Alliance. As will be seen, there is a lot which can be accomplished at the regional level rather than trying to embrace the state in its entirety.

PROGRAM

The speakers and moderators included various government levels and different elements of the history community:

Devin Lander – New York State Historian
Thomas J. Ruller – Assistant Commissioner for Archives and New York State Archivist
The Honorable Peter Fox Cohalon – Suffolk County Historian
Howard Kroplick (Chairperson) – Town Historian of North Hempstead
Zach Studenroth – Village Historian of Southampton
Barbara Russell –Town Historian of Brookhaven
Dr. Georgette Grier-Keys – President, Board of Trustees of Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies.

The program itself besides the presentations by the two state representatives included sessions on

Funding – including preservation, conservation, and humanities
Resources – including archaeology by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, signs by a private funder of history signs, education by the Guilder Lehrman Institute, and preservation.

One key omission in this group was the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) director for Long Island. In New York State, the state is divided into regions which compete for state funding. The process is derisively referred to as “Hunger Games” and its effectiveness as an actual job generator has been questioned. Nonetheless, it is the major game in town for state funding so it behooves the history community to reach out to it even though the odds are it will lead to nothing.

PUBLICITY

The meeting was covered by Newsday, the leading newspaper in Long Island. Obtaining such publicity was a great achievement. I wonder how many other such regional or state meetings are covered by the media. At minimum, the conference organizers should send press releases announcing the meeting and then reporting on it along with pictures the media can used to disseminate the results. Kudos to the Long Island municipal historians for getting such coverage.

THE MEETING MESSAGE(S)

Without intending to, the press coverage highlighted the two divergent approaches taken towards the history community. This dichotomy has been the subject of posts in the past. I have called it the Paul Tonko versus the Andrew Cuomo approaches based on the two politicians, one federal, one state, in New York. By this I mean, the role of history organizations as part of the social fabric, as part of the civic identity of community versus history organizations as economic generators through tourism.

Consider the contrast between these two comments as reported in the Newsday article.

Devin Lander, New York State historian and one of the event’s organizers: “The communities that do well and are drawing those tourists, they’re leaning on their history. It’s very important that we talk about the relevance of what we’re doing.”

Amy Folk, Southold Town historian: “The historian’s job is to look at the past and give context for the present and the future.”  This quotation followed the report by Newsday on the discussions:

Historians also emphasized how to explain the importance of their work to the community — preserving a village’s central historic church, for example, also benefits community services like day care centers and food pantries that use the space, they said.

While I have no objection to cultural heritage tourism, is that really viable for the average community historical society? Think of the planning and effort by the often volunteer staff to handle a school visit by a single class, by an entire grade, by more than 100 people. Do residential communities really want busloads of tourists driving through their communities on a daily basis? Sure the local food places would benefit, but is that the primary function of a municipal historical society – to generate tourism? Municipal historical societies like the local library and the local school or part of the social fabric of the community. The primary responsibility is to develop a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, by connecting the residents to the story of the community from Ice Age to Global Warming.

True, this was a conference of municipal historians and not historical societies. However some governments own historical sites and a representative of the historical societies was present at the meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The article concluded with an implication of what’s next.

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara M. Russell said historical groups can thrive by coming together. Events like Saturday’s summit are key in making those connections happen, especially for smaller groups that can’t afford to make trips to Albany, where state resources are concentrated.

The next step for this convocation is to bring the state capital to the region. This is an election year. Long Island will be electing state legislators and senators. What a perfect opportunity for the history community to advocate on behalf of local and state history. I suspect some of the people attending the conference know their local politicians. Now is the time to arrange meetings with all the major candidates to discuss history concerns on their home turf and not at the state capital. I don’t mean to have a philosophical discussion on the merits of history. I mean to have specific “asks.”  You want this bill to be passed or to be rejected. You want the spending limits for this program to be increased. You want school curriculum to include local history at the elementary, junior, and high school level. Or whatever your agenda is. Now during this election year is the time to act. And when you meet with the candidates, make sure you know the number of people who are members of historical societies in that district. Numbers count.

Finally, you need someone who will lead this effort. This conference was led by Howard Kroplick, historian for the Town of North Hempstead. He comes from the business world and still has his mojo. He is looking to do things. It takes somewhat like that to make things happen. Here is an opportunity for him to take a leadership role in one region and create a template that can be used elsewhere. Here is an opportunity to develop at the regional level an effort which can led to a statewide effort. The history community certainly could use such a jolt.

NYSHA Responds to Advocacy for Local and State History Post

New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown

In a previous post, I reported on a petition initiated by the New York Academy of History in support of local and state history.  Much of the details of the letter were against recent actions of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). That organization has undergone some changes in 2017 as reported in New York History Blog by editor John Warren and columnist/advocate Bruce Dearstyne.

My post also led to a response by Paul S. D’Ambrosio, President & CEO, Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers’ Museum aka NYSHA. He sent me an email asking if I would publish it. I agreed to do so and he then sent a second draft which is published below.

This is in response to the recent blog post by Peter Feinman entitled “History Professors Protest for State and Local History.” The post was unfortunately misinformed and inaccurate, and it is regrettable that no one from Fenimore Art Museum (the “Museum”), formerly known as the New York State Historical Association, was approached for comment prior to its publication. Accordingly, I write to you now to correct the record and provide an accurate description the Museum’s current and future activities. 

Most crucially, the notions that NYSHA is “defunct” or “ceases to exist,” or that any of its programs are “at risk,” could not be more incorrect. The organization formerly known as NYSHA has simply changed its name (formally adopting the name that it has legally used as a “d/b/a” for many years), while continuing to carry on a wide range of activities promoting an appreciation of art, history, and culture. The Museum thus has been, and remains, a private, non-profit organization chartered under the New York State Education Law and recognized by the IRS as exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Indeed, the Museum’s status as such was re-affirmed by the IRS on October 17, 2017 in response to a submission including the Museum’s amended charter.  

The charter amendments were driven by the Museum’s desire to reflect the broad range of its long-standing activities, to avoid the misconception that it was a state agency, and to correct the ongoing confusion with the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan. The Museum also desired to address the fact that its collections have never been limited to New York State and, in fact, our important art collections, including our American Folk Art and American Indian Art, have been national in scope for decades. The charter amendments thus allow the Museum to present an institutional identity to the public that fully reflects its collections and the experience it offers.

Most important to the concerns in Mr. Feinman’s blog post is what the charter amendments did not change – the scope or quality of our educational programming. We still host more than 7,000 school children each year in organized tours on a range of historical and artistic topics.  We continue to operate our Research Library, a vital resource for the region with more than 100,000 volumes and a large collection of unique original manuscripts. The Library continues to be staffed by professional librarians as it has been for many years. We continue to serve New York as the statewide coordinator of National History Day, a competitive program that reaches more than 10,000 students throughout the state. We maintain a close partnership with The Farmers’ Museum, a living history museum dedicated to promoting an understanding of the rural and agricultural history of New York. We share most of our professional staff with this prominent history museum. Please know as well that we are committed to ensuring the continued publication of the journal New York History, and that its future is not in jeopardy. Finally, of course, we bring world-class art exhibitions to New York State every year, including artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Ansel Adams, and (upcoming in 2018) Thomas Cole.

In short, our museum campus continues to thrive as Fenimore Art Museum, and we maintain the same reverence for our state’s rich past as we always have. We are firmly committed to providing cultural enrichment and a better quality of life for New Yorkers, and critical educational opportunities for the youth of the state.

I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have about Fenimore Art Museum and its range of activities. Please feel free to contact me directly at p.dambrosio@fenimoreart.org or call me at 607-547-1413 if would like to discuss this matter further. Thank you for your attention and interest.

Sincerely,

Paul S. D’Ambrosio
President & CEO
Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers’ Museum

His response reflects the dual nature of the Cooperstown organization. On the one hand, there is a museum, actually two museums. I have been to both museums as part of Teacherhostels/Historyhostels and attending conferences. Those conferences have been both a local one for social studies teachers (which I believe have been discontinued or at least I stopped getting notices about them) and state ones such as for the New York State History Conference which NYSHA helped run.  The museum part of the operation of the organization is not defunct. It continues to function as a museum and my post was not directed towards this aspect of its identity.

The second part refers to its statewide identity and function. In previous posts I have written about the need for the history community to organiza and advocate. I confess when I wrote these various posts, the name that came to me as the perfect vehicle to express what I wanted was the New York State Historical Association. Here is where I have a problem with NYSHA. It is partially addressed in the letter from Ken Jackson that initiated this sequence and not really addressed in the respose by Paul D’Ambrosio. The true issue is not the functioning of the museum but the absence of any leadership position as a statewide advocacy group for history.

At the end of my post, I suggested the following actions be taken:

Let’s pick three days to advocate on behalf of state and local history during the 2018 legislative session:

1. a day when the legislature is not in session and advocacy can be done locally (such as a Friday)
2. a day when the legislature is in session (such as a Tuesday or Wednesday)
3. a day when the Regents is in session (monthly meetings).

We need to become a squeaky wheel.

Notice what Paul D’Ambrosio’s response in his post was to my suggestions  – there is none whatsoever. In my email to him, I even asked what he thought of my suggestions. In other words, I gave him the opportunity to revise his own response to include an endorsement or recommendations of his own on behalf of state advocacy for history. His email response to me is private but clearly his published response does not address the deeper concerns I raised. One should note that he once was a member of the Regents  Advisory Council on Museums reported on in post dated November 9, 2017 so he has been involved at the state level. What lessons can he share from that experience as part of an advisory council that nobody outside a small circle even knows exists?

Over the past few years, I have participated in advocacy days for tourism and state parks. Both of these days are organized by private organizations with full-time staff  who have the mission of having a statewide perspective. They are not trapped in the day-to-day necessities of running a museum, park, or hotel. Their job is to monitor the events in the state capital as they relate to their respective sectors and to be on top of developments. Obviously teachers and libraries also pack a wallop along with numerous other sectors like preservation.

History and museums have no such state voice. Yes, MANY exists and with a lobbyist but it is a small staff and I am not sure it has the resources to create a Musem Advocacy Day (MAD) in New York. MANY is not a purely history organization either since its mandate includes art museums, science museums, zoos, and acquariums. And the 600-pound history gorillas in New York City tend to do their own thing without consideration for a state leadership role. There are more fulltime people at the New-York Historical Society building than in just about any individual county in the state. It operates in a separate world from the history museums and societies in the towns and villages throughout the state …. or even their equivalent organizations in the neighborhoods of the city.

NYSHA should be the history organization that galvanizes the history community. It isn’t and it is not going to be. So what do we do instead? Perhaps being squeaky as I suggested in the earlier post isn’t enough. We need to get MAD!

Peter Finch in Network

And just as was about to post this blog to the IHARE website, look what I received.

November 29, 2017

Dear Friends, Members, and Supporters,

I’m pleased to share the news that I have been invited to testify on Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development’s Annual Budget Oversight Hearing of the 2017-2018 State Budget. The purpose of this hearing will be to review the impact and effectiveness of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) grants awarded throughout the State and arts projects funded by NYSCA.

I would like to include information from as many members of New York State’s museum field as possible in my remarks. This is a link to a survey that will take less than 5 minutes of your time to complete. Please click the link above and submit your answers before Friday, December 1 at 5 PM when the survey will close.

The information gathered will be shared with the Committee next Tuesday and with you later next week. Please feel free to forward this email to colleagues.

Unless you choose otherwise, I will aggregate and reported responses anonymously.

Thank you for sharing your information and helping me to prepare my testimony.

Erika Sanger
Executive Director
Museum Association of New York

The Battle for New York State History: Representative Paul Tonko versus Governor Andy Cuomo

The State of New York State History

On April 12, 2015, Representative Paul Tonko received the Legislative Leadership Award from the Museum Association of New York (MANY). He was a co-winner with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of the inaugural award by MANY.  The award recognizes exemplary leadership in support of museums and cultural institutions in the state. These two elected officials were cited for their work in Congress in support of funding the Office of Museum Services within the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Representative Tonko appeared in person in Corning to receive the award at the annual MANY conference. During the reception in the glass-blowing exhibit area, he spoke to the attendees. Unfortunately, I took no notes and did not record what he said. In general terms, I was impressed with what he had to say, with his vocabulary and choice of words on behalf of local and state history. As I recall, he never once mentioned them in conjunction with economic development or job creation. It was all about the civic and social importance of local history in the community.

On April 2, 2017, Representative Tonko was present in Saratoga Springs at the MANY conference when Regent Roger Tilles was the award winner. As a member of the Culture sub-committee, Tilles deals directly with the state Archives, Library, and Museum. He received the award due to work in support of the Museum Education Act. During the reception, Tonko addressed the audience. This time I paid more attention to his words. At times he seemed to be channeling my blog. I do not know him and I doubt he has read them, nonetheless one couldn’t help but wish when it comes to local and state history that he was governor. He is well aware of the of the importance of a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community and the importance of local history to the social fabric and civic health of a municipality. Once again, there was no mention of economic development or job creation as primary responsibilities of local and state history organizations.

It is hard to imagine Governor Cuomo ever winning the MANY Legislative Leadership award unless it was a crass political move as a quid pro quo in his quest to be President. Let’s look at some of the key actions which have occurred during his tenure.

1. Member items have been eliminated. Given the chronic corruption in the state government, one might easily applaud this attempt to rein in the endemic misuse and abuse of taxpayer money. Unfortunately, the action threw out the baby with the bathwater. Many small non-profits seeking comparatively small sums of funding turned to their local legislator and/or senator (as I did) for support. Larger scale funding often was a bureaucratic challenge. Starlyn D’Angelo, executive director Albany Shaker Heritage Society and current MANY Board of Director, raised this very point at the History Roundtable chaired by State Legislator Steve Englebright on May 29, 2014 with Regent Tilles in attendance (see Report from the NYS History Commission Roundtable). It was Devin Lander’s last day as a legislative aide before becoming executive director of MANY, his position before becoming State Historian.  While there is some funding in Republican Senate districts as Fort Niagara availed itself of, there is no state-wide mechanism to address the small-scale needs of the history community (see January History News).

2. REDC funding has now begun a new cycle of funding application for the 2017 awards. To some extent, the funding simply includes the types of funding that history organizations directly applied to NYSOPRHP and NYSAC for in the past. In general terms the local history organization has no place in this process. The Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are interested in economic development and job development. Imagine if the local library had to request funding based on those standards…or the police department!

The game is rigged against the history community. At the recent MANY conference, Ross Levi, Marketing Initiatives for Empire State Development for I Love New York and the public face of the Path through History, spoke in the “Partnerships for Progress: Museums and Tourism” session.  The theme of the session was the ways in which museums and cultural institutions can partner with I Love New York to promote their organizations. I will more to say about this in future posts taking into account the Tourism Advocacy Council, the plenary address at MANY, and related materials.

In the meantime, I wish to report on a question asked from the audience to Ross about the local tourism representation. At the second Women’s Suffrage conference last October 7, (see Women’s Suffrage Centennial), Rick Newman, Seneca County TPA, distributed a list of the Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) from every county. By law, I Love New York works through these agencies and not directly with local history organizations. Ross suggested that the local history organizations contact the TPA in their county. These TPAs could be an advocate for the history community in the REDC funding process.

I take Ross at his word. While I do not know him well, I think he genuinely believed what he was saying was sound advice with real world application. Here we have a classic example of the disconnect between the Albany-Manhattan bubble and that real world. While I can only comment anecdotally, I have heard multiple incidents from people in the history community about TPAs who don’t give them the time of day. TPAs are interested in wineries, recreational tourism, and sites that bring head to beds. TPAs often are non-government organizations, that is, chambers of commerce, working to do what is best for its members. The members rarely are small non-profit history organizations and are even if they were or became members, they are not likely to carry much weight. There is nothing wrong with Chambers of Commerce actively promoting economic development, but once again it means the history community is left high and dry with nowhere to turn in the funding process.

3. Speaking of nowhere to turn, let’s turn to the great failure itself, the Path through History. It will celebrate its fifth anniversary on August 28, 2017. What does it have to show for itself? I attended the kickoff meeting for the HV region on January 25, 2013 (see A Fork in the Road on the Path through History).  Of the ten regions originally created and recipients of $100,000 grants from the State, how many of those regions are still functioning? If they are functioning, what do they do? If they aren’t functioning, what replaced them? Was there ever any additional funding?

Historic sites are ranked by revenue/budget for tourist purposes. Within the Hudson Valley region where I live, there are five over the $1,000,000 threshold I Love New York uses to calculate the crown jewels for tourism. I don’t know what they are in this region but some possibilities include Historic Hudson Valley (multiple sites including Kykuit), Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt library and homes run by the National Park Service and National Archives, and the Culinary Institute. Approximately 70% of the organizations in the region are under $50,000 in revenue meaning they are below the radar where anyone in the state gives a dam about them.

In my blog after the initial meeting, I recommended that the $100,000 be used to hire people who would create paths. Years later, I recommended that there be funding through the REDC process to hire PATHFINDERS who would create the paths that the TPAs and I Love New York would promote (see Create Pathfinders in Your Region). One region tried and it was rejected – there is no place for cooperation and collaboration no matter what jargon terms are used at conferences and meetings. Once again the history community is left high and dry.

As it turns out there are people at the grassroots level who can and have created paths through history. Generally these are conjunction with a conference. I will be writing about these examples in a future post. Of course, these are created without state support or promotion.

The cost to New York State of the failure to respect the Tonko model is enormous if difficult to quantify. The stakes for the country are even larger. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American and resident of one’s community. In a recent op-ed piece entitled “America’s Political Disunion” by Robert P. Jones (NYT 5/2/17), he cited British writer G. K. Chesterton’s observation after he had visited the United States that unlike European countries we did not rely on ethnic kinship or cultural character to create a shared identity. People of any race, any ethnicity, any religion can and have been American. Once upon a time in New York, German Palatines, the English, the Dutch, the French both Huguenots and Catholics, Scotch-Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, were people of different “nations” and types. Today they are all Americans and lumped together as white. And anyone who thinks all the Haudenosaunee nations live together in a two-dimensional kumbaya relationship as one Native American people should think again or think for the first time.

We are a storytelling species. We’ve lost that story feeling. We’ve lost the narrative. Can we tell a shared story of our history at the national level, at the state level, at the community level? Can we tell a narrative that unites us around a common multigenerational project that gives an overarching sense of meaning and purpose to our history? What is our shared narrative in our community? What is our shared narrative in our state? What is our shared narrative as Americans?

For most of the past 400 years, America did have an overarching story. It was the Exodus story.

The Puritans came to this continent and felt they were escaping the bondage of Egypt and building a new Jerusalem….

During the revolution, the founding fathers had that fierce urgency too and drew just as heavily on the Exodus story….

Frederick Douglas embraced the Exodus too….

The successive immigrant groups saw themselves performing an exodus to a promised land…

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders drew on the Exodus more than any other story (David Brooks, “The Unifying American Story, NYT 3/21/17).

There is a unity in the story from long ago in lands far far away to boldly going where no one has gone before.  There are stories to be told in every community throughout the land from Ice Age to Global Warming about the people who lived there and the people who do live there. There are stories to be told about how all the different peoples of the Mohawk Valley became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Castle Garden became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the peoples who arrived at Ellis Island became part of We the People. There are stories to be told about how all the people who arrived at JFK Airport became part of We the People.

There are stories to be told if We the People are to survive as a nation, to long endure, to not become Syria, to not become Yugoslavia, to not become Iraq. We don’t even celebrate the birthday of our state or the anniversary of when we constituted ourselves as New Yorkers.

Brooks ends his op-ed piece with a call to leadership for We the People.

What’s needed is an act of imagination, someone who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and the world should be.

Neither of the candidates provided such a vision in 2016. They didn’t even try. Will anything be different in the 2020 rematch? Maybe Tonko should run for president instead of Cuomo.

 

MANY And Advocacy For The NYS History Community

In this post, I wish to focus attention on recent developments involving the Museum Association of New York (MANY) and opportunities for advocacy on behalf of the history community.

MANY has undergone significant changes which are of importance to the history community, though it should be noted that the organization’s membership is not limited to historical museums, but also include art and science museums, zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums. Continue reading “MANY And Advocacy For The NYS History Community”

History Community Coordination: An Update

Readers of The New York History Blog may recall that in a previous post I asked if anyone had heard about what had been discussed in Cooperstown at the NYSHA conference in a private meeting involving the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), the New York State historical Association (NYSHA), and the New York State Historian among others.

Some of those discussions have now been reported in the APHNYS newsletter. The following excerpts are from the newsletter. Continue reading “History Community Coordination: An Update”

$60,000,000 History Questions For Andrew Cuomo

PathThroughHistorySomeone I know sent me an e-mail in response to my posts about the Path through History asking me “What do you think has motivated Cuomo to launch the $60 million tourism initiative?”

That is a big question and I don’t claim to be privy to the inner sanctum of the Albany decision-makers or to the workings of Cuomo’s mind.

What follows then is a speculation on my part. Continue reading “$60,000,000 History Questions For Andrew Cuomo”

The MANY / Museumwise Conference

On April 22-24, MANY and Museumwise held their annual conference in Albany. The two organizations are in the processing of merging which should be a good thing. Due to all the commotion over the NYS Regents, the Core Curriculum, and the state requirements in social studies for high school graduation, I have been delayed in posting about that conference. Continue reading “The MANY / Museumwise Conference”

Size Matters: Advocating for New York History

Since my emergency post of April 22 a lot has happened.

1. MANY/Museumwise held its annual conference
2. APHNYS held its annual conference at the same time
3. The NYS Board of Regents met
4. Gov. Cuomo created a New York Education Reform Commission
5. Gov. Cuomo’s “Path Through History” initiative scheduled a meeting for May 21

Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of some of these developments. Continue reading “Size Matters: Advocating for New York History”

Irene and New York State History (Part Two)

So where do we go from here? The August issue of The Public Historian devoted to “Strengthening the Management of State History: Issues, Perspectives and Insights from New York” was featured in a recent post by Bruce Dearstyne. In these articles, the need for leadership, direction, and coordination in state history is touted. A stronger role for the State Historian is recommended since the present position has been “emasculated.” Continue reading “Irene and New York State History (Part Two)”