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The New York State Assembly Committee on Tourism Meeting September 26, 2018

ASSEMBLY STANDING COMMITTEE ON TOURISM, PARKS, ARTS, AND SPORTS
ASSEMBLY SUBCOMMITTEE ON MUSEUMS & CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

Oral Testimony by Invitation Only

SUBJECT: Impact of Arts and Cultural Organizations on the State’s Economy
PURPOSE: To examine the impact New York’s artistic and cultural institutions have on the economy of the State.
 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
1:00pm
Assembly Hearing Room
Room 1923, 19th Floor
250 Broadway
New York, New York

New York is home to many world class artistic venues and cultural organizations. According to the most recent data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), New York’s artistic and cultural sector generated $114.1 billion to the state economy and employed 462,584 people across the State. This ranks New York second among all states in arts and cultural value added to the economy and in arts and cultural employment. The support and successful marketing of artistic and cultural attractions has the potential to create and sustain jobs and strengthen our State’s economy. The Committees seek to examine the economic impact artistic and cultural organizations have on local communities and the State. This hearing is also an opportunity for the Committees to discuss how new and existing artistic and cultural programs can help increase job growth and economic development throughout the State.

Oral testimony will be limited to 10 minutes duration. Ten copies of any prepared testimony should be submitted at the hearing registration desk. The Committees would appreciate advance receipt of prepared statements.

SELECTED ISSUES TO WHICH WITNESSES MAY DIRECT THEIR TESTIMONY:

1. The impact of arts and cultural tourism on State and local economies.

2. The effectiveness of State-supported programs aimed at enhancing the arts and cultural institutions.

3. The potential for locally-supported events, such as festivals and hosting of conferences in cultural institutions, to increase tourism and impact local economies.

To see the video of these proceedings go to the New York State Assembly website under Committee Hearings.

I attended this meeting. There were ten presentations, each followed by Q&A from the four state legislators:

Robert C. Carroll — District 44 Chair, Subcommittee on Museums & Cultural Institutions chairing his first subcommittee meeting in this capacity
Brooklyn, NY 11215
CarrollR@nyassembly.gov

Angelo J. Morinello– District 145
Niagara Falls, NY 14301
morinelloa@nyassembly.gov

Daniel J. O’Donnell — District 69 Chair, Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development
245 West 104th Street
New York, NY 10025
OdonnellD@nyassembly.gov

Carrie Woerner — District 113
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
woernerc@nyassembly.gov

I will not review each of the ten presentations. In general terms, they may be considered press releases on behalf of the activities of the each of the presenting organizations during the past year. In this regard, the emphasis in the reports was on issue #1: the impact of arts and cultural tourism. There were many facts and figures in the verbal presentations that were more than I could digest or put into context while someone read a report.

I confess I take all such figures with a grain of salt to say the least. The true issues are in the definition of tourism and then in arts and cultural institutions. For instance, the global standard uses 50 miles as a cutoff figure. Traveling less than that is considered a day trip. Such travel normally is not considered tourism the way a family vacation is or even business travel is. It puts no heads to beds in the tourism jargon for overnight stays generating sales and lodging tax. There was some discussion of such revenue-producing tourism by out-of-state and international visitors but the overall focus was on local day trips and not vacation tourism.

However it is not quite clear, at least to an amateur like me, what counts as tourist visitation. For the presenters, it apparently was a strictly body count number: here is how many people visited our museum, attended our plays, or participated in our programs.

What about visits to sports events? (The committee includes “Sports Development” in its title.) How about the millions who visit professional sports events and then go home as a day trip? How about to college sports? What about high school sports or theater (some of the presenters were arts and theater organizations)? Is watching a movie at the local multiplex tourism just like visiting a local art museum and historical society? Which generates more money? More admission fees? More popcorn?

In short, there is a big difference between the local visit and the trip involving an overnight stay or a chartered bus (to Broadway). There would seem to be a need to differentiate between visitations and tourism or at least the tourism that generates revenue. And even if revenue is generated, should that be considered tourism. Are the people who stay in motels while visiting loved ones in prisons tourists? (During the meeting Chair O’Donnell advocated for arts programs in prisons and for NYSCA funding to support theater group travel – are they considered tourists?)

There was more of an effort to garner such information in the Q&A session with Ross Levi, Executive Director/Vice President, New York State Division of Tourism – I LOVE NY.

Subcommittee Chair Carroll asked about the breakdown of the 243 million (that number seems high) visitors to New York State who arrived by car and plane. He wanted to know how I LOVE NY reached out to non-car holders. Levi mentioned the airlines that service the state, Delta and Jet Blue, the trains, Amtrak and MetroNorth, and car rental organizations. At the next subcommittee meeting, it might be relevant to talk with these organizations, examine their numbers, and try to determine what happens when people arrive at their destination by plane, train, bus, or car.

Carroll noted the problem of a train traveler from downstate once the train reaches Albany. There are delays while the engine is changed there before continuing the journey. Another presenter noted the difficulty in car rental based on the hours of operation and the ease of access to them at train stops. She suggested we have not unlocked the full potential of New York City travel to upstate because of the difficulties in traveling upstate without a car. What exactly is the tourist supposed to do when disembarking from Amtrak, MetroNorth, or at an airport? One might add why doesn’t every train stop provide a seamless experience for tourists seeking to experience the hidden gems, festivals, and small organizations of the region?

Woerner observed that cultural tourists (meaning real tourists and not daytrips from home) want a bundle of activities. She defined that as including food, lodging, and shopping as well as the cultural heritage, history, or art site visited. She is exactly right and has hit upon the exact problem that has been raised in these blogs time and time again. Levi mentioned the over 800 Path through History events last year and the anticipated more of them this year. He neglected to mention that they do not involve such bundling and are almost exclusively daytrips that generate ZERO tax revenue from heads to beds.

In this regard, it was disappointing that there was no mention of the Ramble. The Ramble was the predecessor to the Path. It now occurs over the four weekends in September. It is a primarily Hudson Valley program operated through NYSOPRHP and not I LOVE NY. It suffers from some of the same shortcomings as the Path through History in being a series of one-off programs. There are no weekend Ramble packages just as there are no weekend or weeklong Path packages. The absence is all the more pressing given the proximity of Ramble events to MetroNorth and Amtrak stations. Here is a perfect example of where the full potential of New York City tourism to the Lower and Mid-Hudson Valley and the Capital Region is not being realized.

People do look at the Ramble website. I have seen people getting off the train to participate in Ramble events. I know people use the I LOVE NY website but I am not sure about the traffic on the Path through History website. Local advertising still would seem to the key here for these local events.

Let me conclude with my favorite example. Let’s put aside all the infrastructure issues. Let’s ignore the problems with LaGuardia Airport, JFK, Penn Station, Port Authority, the subway that make us look like a third world country to people from overseas who are used to a seamless quality transportation system. Let’s ignore the fact that when tourism began in America in the 1820s it involved people being able to seamlessly travel from New York City to the upper Catskills by steamship, stage coach, incline railway, and eventually train. Let’s ignore the fact on the bicentennial of the origin of tourism in the Hudson Valley, it can’t replicate what was done two centuries ago.

Instead, let’s focus how on New York missed a national opportunity to promote tourism to cultural heritage sites in the state. I am referring to the AMC show “Turn” about the American Revolution in New York. This four-year show was set in New York, mainly Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson Valley. The show was filmed in Virginia. Fair enough. Production costs for colonial era sets are cheaper there. Unfortunately when Benedict Arnold fled down the Hudson River after being exposed as a traitor, it looked more like the creek where Andy and Opie used to fish in Mayberry than the majestic river that gave its name to America’s first art form. What’s worse was the advertising for the show. Virginia advertised on it: Come see where the American Revolution occurred. Mind you, this show took place in New York!

1. There were no advertisements on this nationally-seen show to an audience interested in the American Revolution to visit the sites in New York depicted in the show.
2. There were no promotional events or public appearances by the actors at the sites in New York depicted in the show.
3. There were no Paths through History created to take people should they fly/train/drive/bus to New York to the sites depicted in the show.

Will we do any better as the American Revolution 250 begins to be celebrated? Did we do any better for Hamilton?

So to respond to the three issues selected for the presentations for the first meeting:

1. The impact of arts and cultural tourism on State and local economies – Yes, the arts and cultural heritage tourism are important to the State and local economies.

2. The effectiveness of State-supported programs aimed at enhancing the arts and cultural institutions – Yes, State funding helps and it could be bigger but it does not help in promoting cultural heritage tourism. It does not support the collaboration and cooperation needed to create the bundle of activities that tourists want. Its focus on one-off events shortchanges the development of cultural heritage tourism especially outside Manhattan.

3. The potential for locally-supported events, such as festivals and hosting of conferences in cultural institutions, to increase tourism and impact local economies – Yes and the potential for them remains unfilled.

I look forward to future meetings of this subcommittee to address these issues.

REDC Funding Cycle Begins: Start Your Cultural Heritage Tourism Proposals

U.S. Civil Rights Trail (https://civilrightstrail.com/)

It’s that time of the year again. It is time to start preparing your proposals for the 2018 version of Hunger Games (see REDC: Funding “Hunger Games” Where History Is the Loser). However this time, I suggest the history community try something different.

To begin with, as a resident of the Hudson Valley, I received a notice of an upcoming public meeting on April 26 by the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (MHREDC). The meeting was to be held at Resorts World Catskills in Monticello. That was a bit far to drive for a one-hour meeting so I passed. The location is significant. As we all know casinos are the saviors of the upstate New York economy. Each and every one which has opened has done blockbuster business in excess of expectations and transformed the surrounding region. Putting aside the alternate reality facts that are so in vogue these days, and back in the real world, there is an important lesson to be learned from casinos. They reflect the mindset of the people in power who make decisions about the allocation of funds in the current cycle. The importance to the REDC of history and civics for the benefit of the social fabric and for creating healthy communities where people would want to live and establish business is nil.

So let’s talk dollars and cents. To begin with there will be $750 million in state economic development resources available to fund regional economic development projects through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process. Using my region as an example, there will workshops and information sessions scattered throughout the region from the opening of the application process on May 1 (now passed) to the close on July 27 at 4:00 PM.

Again, using my region as an example, resources are available on the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s website (http://www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov/mid-hudson) and similar urls exist for the other regions. The resources of importance are:

Typically the history community applies for funding for their own organization and to state entitles like NYSCA and NYSOPRHP. By all means, continue to do so. In this post, I would like to suggest something bigger involving collaboration and cooperation.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Civil Rights Trail which opened on January 1, 2018 (The Confederacy Trumps New York on Civil Rights Tourism). The Trail now includes 114 locations in 14 states in the South. The project was initiated by the southern equivalents of the New York REDC. Those REDC’s decided developing and promoting cultural heritage tourism was beneficial AND PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR MOUTHS WERE. They didn’t simply talk the talk of cooperation and collaboration, they walked the walk. Teams were created combining the history community, scholars, and the state tourist departments to develop paths through civil rights history for tourists to actually use. Alabama took a leadership roles. I realize what I just wrote may sound like science fiction or a glimpse into an alternate reality based on the New York experience, but I assure you it all happened in the real world…and I am still delusional enough to think it can happen here.

Since I wrote about the Civil Rights Trail there have been some new developments. The Trail was featured in the Sunday Travel section of the New York Times (4/29/18). According to Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama tourism department and who oversees the Trail, they expect visitation of 5 million people this calendar year. Just to make sure you read the number correctly that is 5,000,000. That’s a lot of people. The estimated tourist spending from the Trail is $725 million, that’s $725,000,000. That’s a lot of money. Puts the path through History to shame. Do you think New York will ever catch up to Alabama?

One of the overarching goals was to link together a whole host of historic sites instead of having each one fend for itself. As Sentell said:

The whole purpose is to elevate this group of mostly modest locations, churches and schools where significant events in American history happened, that for the most part have not had a great deal of local support.

Remember when cooperation and collaboration were the buzz words of the Path through History project except there was no funding to actually cooperate and collaborate?

South Carolina added a twist to the Trail by creating in 2017 a site for the Negro Green Book. This compilation was discussed in some political posts I wrote which I don’t send to the history community (see Negroes and the American Dream: Hidden Figures, Open Dreams).  In effect it served as the AAA from 1936 to 1966 listing where it was safe for Negroes to lodge throughout the country. It ceased around the same time as Negro was replaced by African-American.  The South Carolina website created by the African-American Heritage Commission contains over 300 locations. It also has suggested tours by various topics so you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. Here in New York we have the Amistad Commission (see The New York State Amistad Commission: Do Black Lives Matter?) and the Path through History. Do you think New York will ever catch up to South Carolina and Alabama?

The article also mentioned two tour groups. I presume as part of the unrolling of the Civil Rights Trail there were some familiarization tours. One of the two tour companies mentioned specializes in custom itineraries. Do we have such tour operators who create custom itineraries based on the themes in the Path through History?

The other tour operator was Road Scholar. When the Path project began, the Hudson Valley region first met on January 25, 2013 (see A Fork In The Path Through History). The attendees, myself included, were asked to benchmark what they would like to see as a model for how the Path project should operate. The answer was Elderhostel. Since I “borrowed” the terms “Teacherhostel” and “Historyhostel” from that organization, I was quite pleased to hear that the history community supported programs like the ones I was doing mainly for teachers: multiday programs to multiple historic sites that combined talks, walks, and tours.

Years later, Elderhostel changed its name but not its programs. Here are some of the New York programs which could be considered Paths through History:

Historic Mansions on the Hudson River (The Warwick Conference Center)

Go back in the past to explore the tasteful but opulent grandeur of the Hudson River mansions that belonged to America’s wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. With historians and local experts, explore the grounds, houses and gardens of six mansions, including prominent wealthy names such as Rockefeller, Livingston, Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Gould and Mills. Journey up and down the beautiful Hudson River Valley, and learn the story of these families and relive the culture of the Gilded Age with artful instruction by local experts.

The Roosevelts: The Life and Legacy of Franklin and Eleanor (Mount Saint Mary College)

Dive deep into the world of the Roosevelts as you visit their Hudson Valley home, attend lectures at the FDR Presidential Library and discover their haunts along the Hudson River.

The Hudson River Valley: A Landscape That Defined America (Mount Saint Mary College)

The Hudson River Valley has been called the landscape that defined America. Join us to explore its nationally significant cultural and historic heritage with expert background presentations and field trips to iconic sites such as New Paltz’s historic Huguenot Street, one of the nation’s oldest, featuring seven unique stone houses dating to the early 1700s, a burial ground and a reconstructed 1717 stone church.

Iroquois Culture: Yesterday and Today (Watson Homestead Conference & Retreat Center)

The Iroquois Confederacy, established in the 1400s, united warring Indian nations and established peace in fertile glaciated valleys and mountains of upstate New York. Learn about the legacy of this remarkable culture as you meet members of the Iroquois community and embark on field trips to important sites in Iroquois history. Journey to Ganondagan State Historic Site for presentations by Iroquois educators on their history and culture, and gain a new perspective on Iroquois influences in American representational governance and environmental stewardship.

These examples show it is possible to create Path through History tourism at least for one college and some conference centers.

So here are my recommendations for funding requests by you for this year.

Apply for funding to I LoveNY through its $15 million Marketing NY bucket in the REDC.

Apply for funding to replicate what the South did for its Civil Rights Trail. For example, in the Mid-Hudson Region, the application could be for the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley or Hudson River Art. There is no provision for statewide grants so it is not possible to apply for funding for the American Revolution in New York; each region would have to apply on its own. Pick a theme that works for you.

Apply for funding in partnership with TPA/County Tourism Department or with the TPAs of your region as appropriate.

Apply for funding in partnership with a college in your county and/or region which can assist in the research but leave open the option to draw on scholars from outside your geographical area.

Apply for funding to conduct familiarization tours with tour operators once the sites are identified and possible itineraries are created.

Apply for funding to develop the website, apps, and promotional materials needed to make the path/trail/route work.

Apply for real money. This means someone and/or organization needs to take the lead and needs to make the case to the regional committee that after five and half years of the Path through History project it’s time for New York to get serious and catch up to Alabama.

The Confederacy Trumps New York on Civil Rights Tourism

U.S. Civil Rights Trail

The South shall rise again. What can dysfunctional New York learn from the South on Civil Rights tourism?

By coincidence just prior to the awarding of the grants for 2017, a problem with the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) funding process was exposed in an article in the Travel Section of the Sunday New York Times (12/3/17). The problem directly relates to the shortcomings of the Empire State Development on precisely those two areas near and dear to the history community: funding and history tourism. The article is entitled “New Civil Rights Trails in Both South and North.” It describes the process whereby representatives from southern state tourism departments met two years ago at Georgia State University to begin the creation of what is called the nation’s first civil rights trail.

As part of that process, Lee Sentell, the Alabama state tourism director, noted that while many civil rights sites were thriving they were not connected to each other.

“No one had even done an inventory of civil rights landmarks. They saw themselves as one-offs and didn’t realize they were part of a network.”

If this sounds like exactly what the Underground Railroad sites in New York are going through today, it is because it is. Of course, the same could be said for American Revolution sites in the state, or War of 1812 sites, the Dutch sites, or the immigration sites, or the sites related to any of the themes in the I LoveNY Path through History project.

Faced with this problem of the lack of connectivity, these southern tourist directors then decided to do something about the situation. They collaboratively and cooperatively acted together to promote cultural heritage tourism in the area of civil rights [did we do that?].

1. They drew on research experts at the university [did we do that?].

2. They created a map linking the sites they researched including directions of how to get from one site to another [did we do that?].

3. They planned to officially launch the US Civil Rights Trail on January 1, the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln [and this in in the Confederacy! Did we publicly launch any individual paths through history?].

Four weeks later the launch date arrived and the trail is now up and running. The southern states chose the motto:

 What happened here changed the world.

4. The website will contain explanations of the importance of each site and feature interviews with relevant people to those sites [did we do that?].

5. The website will explain the connections as one site affects another [imagine knowing how one War of 1812 site relates to another!].

This website allows you to explore the destinations important to the Civil Rights Movement, as well as plan your journey to cities along the trail. On this site, you’ll find places to see and things to do at each destination. Plus, you’ll find in-depth explorations crafted to allow you to experience the destination or event in a more comprehensive way. Discover the trail. Discover the fight for civil rights. And make sure the true stories that changed history are never lost.

Some of these details resemble what the Path through History site does. But see how much more was accomplished in the grouping of sites such as those relating to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Emmett Till. See how the more detailed text provides a more enriching experience. The website is still new and naturally is experiencing growing pains but it is a conceptually more advanced model than New York chose to implement. One might wonder how is it that tourist people were able to develop a more meaningful website than one would expect from tourist experts.

The answer is quite simple. Contributing to this process was the cultural heritage consultant for the state department of economic development [we have marketing consultants but have you ever heard of a cultural heritage consultant or staff person in I LoveNY or the REDC? For a recent article on state spending of ads and to ad firms see $354 Million: How Much NY Spent on Tourism, Business Ads].

In other words, the tourist departments in the south realized that to develop a history-based website, they should consult with experts in history and not just spend money on marketing and advertising companies or erecting signs.

The NYT article did mention Black Heritage Tours in New York. It began operations in 2016. I met founder its Jennifer Tosch once at a presentation through a Dutch consulate program. Her Hudson Valley trip focuses on the Dutch-African experience. There was an I LoveNY familiarization tour for it. According to the website for 2018 there is a two-day tour Feb. 10-11. A full itinerary is not provided and the description of this February program is somewhat questionable:

Experience New York’s Fall Foliage starting in Harlem we’ll travel upstate through the Hudson River Valley to witness the brilliant transformation of the autumn leaves.

I suspect the description from a fall tour in 2017 was carried forward.

Imagine if New York was serious about wanting to promote its story in the Underground Railroad, what would it do? There is a grassroots effort with people like Judy Wellman, an annual conference in the Capital Region led by Paul and Mary Liz Stewart, and cultural heritage tour initiated by Lori Solomon of Akiba Travel. The next Underground Railroad conference will be March 8-10 in Albany but I don’t think tourism is part of the program.

This April will be the two-year anniversary of my post

The Underground Railroad in New York State: Black Lives Still Don’t Matter

The post examined the Freedom Trail established 1997, its defunct commission, and the various weird website links which have cropped up over the years. I ended in my usual delicate and tactful way that has endeared me to government officials:

There is more that could be written about the New York State Freedom Trail/Underground Railroad Heritage trail with its defunct commission, no staff, inadequate websites, and the lack of support for conferences, public forums, and teacher programs [as required by its formation] but the point should be clear. Unfunded, dysfunctional, silo organized history projects are standard operating procedure in New York State. Although black lives don’t matter in New York State history it’s not because the State is racist, it is because the State’s ineptitude occurs on an equal opportunity basis [i.e., all the themes identified in the Path through History].

So what has changed in the nearly two years since then? How come the South can get its act together on civil rights tourism and New York State can’t on any history theme? Perhaps our Governor who wants to be President should travel to the South to learn how state governments can promote cultural heritage tourism and apply that model not just in civil rights but in all the themes of the Path through History and in sites both upstate and downstate. After all, what happened here changed the world.

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.

 

Signs of the Times: Follow the Money and Not the Cuomo versus Federal Government Showdown

Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau , Gannett

On November 2, Jon Campbell , the Albany correspondent for Gannet, reported in the Poughkeepsie Journal under the byline Politics on the Hudson on an exciting new tourist development in our dysfunctional state.  According to his report, Cuomo had the Department of Transportation (DOT) install “514 highway signs touting its tourism programs despite a federal ruling explicitly prohibiting the state from doing so.”

The investigation, through parent company USA Today, documented that the “Federal Highway Administration has repeatedly notified Cuomo’s administration over the past three years that the signs violate federal and state law, which contain strict rules for what can and cannot be displayed on major roadways.”

New York had submitted a formal request to the Federal Highway Administration on May 31, 2013, asking to experiment with the new type of highway signs to boost the state’s tourism programs. The response was remarkably quick, brief, and succinct. Mark Kehrli, director of the federal Office of Transportation Operations, issued an official ruling to the state two weeks later: “Your request is hereby denied.”

Despite the Fed rejection, in his State of the State address in 2014, the Governor said:

We are going to launch a whole new signage campaign on our roads, promoting the assets of New York, organized into three campaigns. The path through history campaign, the I love New York attraction campaign and the taste of New York Food and Beverages. You will see these signs on the roads literally in the next few days. These campaigns link online to all those attractions in that particular area, all along the thruway and all along major routes. The goal is to get people who are on the roads off the roads and into communities and fostering and promoting the economy of the state of New York.

And that is exactly what New York did.  The signs are generally in packs of 5, separated by 400 feet: a “motherboard” touts the “New York Experience” followed by four signs touting individual state tourism programs like Taste NY and Path through History. The Federal Highway Administration repeatedly said “No” and New York determinedly said “Yes” and installed them. Done deal.

According to the article, in a statement that week, state DOT spokesman Gary Holmes contended the signs fully comply with the law. He also reported that the cost of the signs and posts — not including the labor to install them — was $1.76 million between the DOT and the Thruway Authority.

“We view them as a critical element in a coordinated strategic program to promote the state’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry. We continue to work with FHWA to ensure any questions are answered.”

Cuomo himself then joined the fray. He pointed out the state has an app that allows visitors to track what attractions are near them.

Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau, Gannett
Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau, Gannett

“We’re trying to capture those people who travel through New York and say, ‘See something while you’re here. Spend some of your money while you’re in upstate New York,’” he told reporters in Rochester.

Campbell’s article reports a successful effort in Suffolk to reduce the number of these signs. They were too big and out-of-place for the local flavor the Montauk community was trying to promote for its tourism.

The saga continues.

On November 8, Campbell, the same reporter, quoted Acting Executive Director Bill Finch of the Thruway Authority asserting that the signs follow “the spirit of the law.” Finch contrasted the “letter of the law” with the “spirit of the law” and challenged the Federal Highway Administration to update its standards.

The Federal Highway Administration is questioning whether a series of new highway rest stops in New York -- including this one on Long Island -- comply with federal law. (Photo: (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
(Photo: (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

On November 14, Campbell reported that the Federal Highway Administration had questioned 10 newly-opened or proposed rest areas as not being in compliance with the virtually total ban on commercial activity on rest stops on the Interstate Highways. As if that would matter to New York State…. Do you really think the Federal Government will withhold any of the $1.7 billion federal funding for New York’s transportation infrastructure. Calling the Federal Highway Administration’s bluff is a no-brainer.

On November 30, the New York Times entered the battle. It reported a meeting would be held in December to attempt to resolve the dispute which had been festering for years. It also noted an issue had been raised over the increased driving fatalities due to distracted drivers. Trying to read the information on the motherboard sign touting multiple state attractions at 65+ mph certainly would qualify as a distraction.

The article went on quote a State Legislator from Suffolk on the situation there previously mentioned.

“They were really so out of character with the small communities and two-lane highways that they actually worked against the reason why people come to the East End to begin with,” said Fred W. Thiele Jr., a New York assemblyman who represents the area and who fought to have the signs removed. “We’ve spent literally a billion dollars protecting small villages and scenic vistas and all of that, and putting up eight giant billboards wasn’t really promoting those very scenic features.”

So not long after the signs were erected, cherry pickers showed up and took down seven of them. Mr. Thiele, a member of the Independence Party, hopes the remaining blue sign, at the intersection of West Lake Drive and Flamingo Avenue, is next.

“Quite frankly, we kind of felt that not only were they inappropriate,” he said, “but it was really kind of a boondoggle.”

The next day, the New York Post editorial board expressed it’s concern. It did so in response to an article the previous day by one of its reporters. That article ridiculed the hiring an Arkansas company to promote New York products as Campbell had reported on November 18.

“I find it ironic that a company from Arkansas was paid to work on a project helping to promote New York State products,” said Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica). “It’s simply a bad sign when New York picks Arkansas for a project promoting our state.”

The Post provided a reason for this outreach to Arkansas:

The state hired an Arkansas company to make hundreds of highway signs promoting New York because Gov. Cuomo wanted them up by the July 4th holiday and the Department of Transportation couldn’t meet his deadline, sources told The Post.


Members of Cuomo’s executive staff were so hot to get the signs ready for holiday travelers, they told state transportation employees to do “whatever it took to erect the signs,” sources said.

DOT denies the charge.

Federal Highway Administration spokesman Neil Gaffney said,

“We have been clear with NYSDOT that its tourism-related signs are out of compliance with federal law and create a safety concern. A particular area of concern for us is that fact that we are committed to reducing scenarios involving distracted driving, and these signs can distract drivers. We will specifically discuss how these signs violate national standards and a plan to bring the State into compliance [at the upcoming meeting],”

The Post editorial following this article mocked these developments.

Call it a Gov. Cuomo classic: Order 500 signs to plug New York on state highways — never mind if they’re made outside New York. Or if posting them is even legal.

[Instead of “ironic” as Assemblyman Brindisi said, the Post had] We’d call it bizarre — and telling.
Let’s face it: With Cuomo, it’s damn the details, full speed ahead.…
Sure, sometimes speed counts. But in Cuomo’s case, his haste is mostly meant to promote him. And, alas, there’s no, uh, sign that’ll change any time soon.

On December 2, in this ongoing story, Campbell reported based again on FOIL documents that Federal Highway Administration had offered New York State a deal two years to resolve the issue. The proposal was ignored. Apparently the State’s position is “My way or the highway!” The headlines present an interesting insight into newspaper reporting. The printed edition in my local paper says “State turned down deal on NY signs.” When I looked online to obtain the url for the post the headline was


State rebuffed feds’ olive branch on ‘I Love NY’ signs

The original headline appears to better capture the position of the State then the nondescript printed edition.What do these signs mean of New York State history tourism?

1. Notice the July 4 deadline for the sign installation, the traditional beginning of the summer tourism season. Nobody rushed to install the signs before the Path through History weekend in June which is supposed to promote tourism as Cuomo has said in multiple State of the State addresses and at the Path kickoff in 2012. That’s because everyone knows the Path through History has nothing to do with tourism and is a joke and embarrassment.

2. Notice the reference to the app with New York State tourism that out-of-state tourists can use while driving through New York. Exactly how many people driving on the interstate thruways in New York at 65+ mph are going to make a sudden, impromptu, ad hoc decision to interrupt their journeys to stop and visit an historic site, especially one not right at the exit? Aren’t people supposed to use the Path through History website to plan their itinerary before they leave for New York? Do state spokespeople even think about what they are saying before they say it or are they so secure inside the Albany-Manhattan bubble that they can say millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election and get away with it?

3. Where did the money come from? Cuomo just decided he wanted to spend $1.8 million plus labor and the DOT found the money! He certainly didn’t go through the REDC funding process.

When the Triangle Fire Coalition needed $1.5 million to build a memorial, Cuomo found the money in 2015. I think we can all agree that it was for a worthy cause. When Cuomo described the reasons for his action, he did mention tourism. But he spoke more about the civic benefits, the educational benefits, and reviving faded memories that are part of the social fabric. Isn’t that the very case the history community makes for the benefits of local and state history in the classroom and in the communities throughout the state? Why isn’t Cuomo making this case for local and state history statewide instead of piecemeal? Why can’t he understand that?

And where did he get the money? From economic development funds…and without having to go through the REDC funding application process.

And when the Marydell Sisters in Upper Nyack, in Rockland County, chose to sell 30 acres to a trust rather than let developers purchase it, who stepped in to aid in the financial arrangements? The NYSOPRHP for $2.1 million and the Mid-Hudson REDC for $450,000.

At the Region 7 meeting of the Association of Public Historians in New York State held November 5 in Schoharie, a participant asked State Historian Devin Lander about funding for historical societies and museums. Once upon a time there had been member items but they have been eliminated by the State. Now where does a small non-profit turn? The requested amounts are often in the $10,000 or less range [less than one of the new road signs although we didn’t know it at the time].  The amounts are too small to be considered in the REDC process so the result is these local non-profit history organization located throughout the state are bereft of state support.

The title of this post says “follow the money.” The brouhaha between the Federal and State governments eventually will be resolved. What is more important for the history community is to recognize that funding is available when the Governor and/or the REDCs want it be. There is no funding for the history community as a separate bucket with the REDC funding application process that could replace the member items or provide for anniversary celebrations or build memorials. Instead we get foreign signs that provide no more benefit to the history community than the failed Path through History project. The Triangle Fire Memorial shows that Cuomo does understand the civic benefit of history but he has yet to realize it on a statewide basis and put our tax money where his mouth is.

AMC Mocks the Path through History

“Turn” is an AMC cable series set in the American Revolution in New York. The series purports to tell the story of America’s first spy ring. It was based in Setauket, Suffolk County. The fidelity of the TV series to history is not the issue of this post. That subject has been addressed elsewhere and by others. Rather the focus is on tourism and the squandered opportunity by New York State.

virginia

The history roundtable on May 29, 2014, in Albany, was convened by State Legislator Steve Englebright of Setauket. He began the meeting by expressing his disgust about the TV series set in his home town being filmed in Virginia. Worse was the state of Virginia advertised on the show inviting viewers to come to Virginia to see where the American Revolution happened. So here we had a situation where Virginia was leveraging an American Revolution show set in New York to promote tourism in Virginia while New York did nothing. I will leave it to your imagination to choose the words to characterize the performance of New York State in this matter.

The story gets even worse. Towards the end of the third season, the locale of the show shifted. SPOILER ALERT: Benedict Arnold is a traitor and John André is captured and hanged. All these events happened in the Hudson Valley, a region full of American Revolution sites and signs. Part of the presentation on the show was historically laughable:

 

robinsonarnold

Beverly Robinson House (Garrison Union Free SD) Arnold’s Flight (Robyn Luzon)

  1. Benedict Arnold did not live at West Point. He lived in the Beverly Robinson home on the east side of the Hudson in Garrison, Putnam County. Little remains of the house save for a root cellar. I have been there with the teachers and the current owners of the property invited us into their home. There is, of course, a NYS history sign to mark the site.
  1. Arnold fled to the Hudson River to make his escape. There is another history sign on the opposite side of Route 9D in Putnam marking the start of his escape route. In the TV show, Arnold is shown on a waterway representing the Hudson. It looks more like the creek Sheriff Taylor took Opie fishing. There is none of the majesty of the Hudson nor the S-curve, the choke point where a chain was placed across the river from the western point (hence the name “West Point”) to Constitution Island.
  1. Washington and the captured Andre are shown living in tents in the open field. In fact, Washington stayed at The DeWint House aka George Washington’s Headquarters, Masonic Historic Site, in Tappan, Rockland County. Far from being held prisoner in a tent, André was ensconced in good officer tradition in the 76 House. I have been with the teachers to both locations and enjoyed several meals in the still-operating restaurant.
  1. The hanging did not occur in the open field ether as depicted in the show.

home6andre

76 House and the monument to the hanging (Rolf Müller)

One can understand the logistical advantages of not filming on location but still the publicity opportunities to showcase these tourist locations should be obvious to anyone with some exceptions.

DeWint House
DeWint House

I mentioned this deplorable condition to someone from AMC during a panel discussion at the New-York Historical Society last spring. I gave the person my card and was told it would be referred to the appropriate person within AMC. Naturally nothing happened.

The story gets even worse. Guess what took place in the middle of these two episodes on “Turn” where André is caught and hanged — that’s right, the Path through History weekend.  The event celebrating New York history was smack in the middle of two nationally-shown episodes about events in New York history of national importance. It’s almost as if AMC went out of its way to mock the Path project. Only Virginia chose to advertise its American Revolution sites during these shows.

The story gets even worse. As is well known, New York State provides no staff or funding to develop paths through history. To compensate for New York’s failure to support the Path program, last year I recommended that the history community submit requests for “Pathfinders” in the REDC funding process.

These people would then do what should have been done for years. Their job would be to create itineraries which could be offered to tour operators as “shovel-ready” tours. Priscilla Brendler, executive director of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN), the organization which actually handles the Path weekend program, responded to my suggestion by submitting exactly such a proposal to the Mid-Hudson REDC, the region where these “Turn” episodes were set. Meghan Taylor, the Regional Director for the Mid-Hudson Region, previously had meet with the regional history community at my initiative, was receptive. The Pathfinder application was approved at the regional level and submitted to Albany.

Guess what. There was no funding line appropriate for the request. Remember all the times how New York State talks the talk of collaboration and cooperation. Now when a grassroots application was submitted to create exactly such collaboration and cooperation among history sites, there was no bucket into which the application could be placed. Not only is there no staff or funding for state bureaucrats to develop paths on a fulltime basis, there is no funding either to support such efforts by the history community itself. The application was denied. The next time anyone from New York State talks about collaboration and cooperation, say SHOW ME THE MONEY!

The story gets even worse. The Path project is intended to generate revenue especially from sales, lodging, and gas taxes as tourists travel the highways and byways of the state. Typically tourist travel to historic sites happens during the summer tourist season.  For example, here is an excerpt from a state press release reported in a previous post:

As the Fourth of July weekend kicks-off this summer season, the Governor’s summer tourism ad campaign invites residents and visitors to celebrate the state’s history and experience the unmatched destinations, attractions, events, landmarks, and cultural opportunities New York State has to offer.

Please note the references to summer travel and state history. One might logically conclude therefore that Path through History programs would focus on this time period. Think again.

Here are three items for your consideration highlighting the stark reality that New York State no longer even pretends that the Path through History is a tourist-driven project designed to increase tax revenue through a robust history tourism program.

  1. The Museum Heritage Weekend in May renamed and rescheduled as the Path weekend in June occurs prior to the summer tourist season designated by the Governor and consists of local events for the local community. I have recommended that it be called Community Heritage Weekend. One notices that the reports about the success of the weekend are strictly limited to the body count of events with no tax benefits calculated or even contributions to the economy suggested. By contrast when the Tourism industry has its advocacy day in Albany, it is sure to provide dollar figures.
  1. I Love NY has now proposed an extension of the Path through History weekend to the fall.

 

You spoke and we listened.
We received a variety of feedback regarding the timing of Path Through History weekend, so we are exploring the option of expanding in 2017 to two weekends: a Spring PTH Weekend on Father’s Day weekend in June, and a Fall PTH Weekend on Columbus Day weekend in October. Host sites would be able to choose whether they wanted to participate in one or both of the weekends; sites would not be obligated to participate in both.

It’s nice to know that I Love NY is listening to the history community. A second community heritage weekend is a perfectly valid initiative. Just as many sites could not offer programs in May during the original Museum weekend (some upstate sites weren’t even open then), Father’s Day weekend may not be the best time for local events either. A three-day weekend does provide opportunities for events involving overnight lodging that generates tax revenue. Let’s see if any such programs are proposed. That would be a big change.

  1. The new New York State Historian has issued a notice about this year’s celebration of New York History Month in November. The event is defined by state regulations:

 

57.02 New York state history month

  1. Each month of November following the effective date of this section shall be designated as New York state history month.
  2.   The purpose of this month shall be to celebrate the history of New York state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.
  1. The commissioner of education, through the office of state history is hereby authorized to undertake projects to recognize New York state history month. Such projects may include the creation of an essay contest for state residents who are enrolled in any elementary or secondary education program which shall reflect upon the importance of New York state history. Any project or projects created pursuant to this subdivision may, in the discretion of the commissioner of education, authorize non‑monetary awards to be given to project participants or project winners as such commissioner may deem appropriate.

 

Again, the State History month is one of community heritage and civic engagement, not tourism. The notice just sent by the State Historian is consistent with this definition.

New York State History Month represents an opportunity for historians and cultural institutions to assert the vital importance of preserving and learning about our state’s history. It is also a time to engage with the public through programs and learning opportunities about the history of New York State and the ways in which we can help preserve our history.

The New York State Museum encourages historians, museums, historic sites, archives, and libraries across the state to join us in presenting events, tours, lectures, discussions, publications, and exhibitions that highlight the importance of New York State history and the role we (and the public) play in preserving it.

Marketing: New York State History Month Logo and Path Through History Logo

Any historical or cultural organization hosting programs for New York State History Month is encouraged to use the New York State History Month logo in their marketing. It is recommended that Path Through History sites also use the Path Through History logo.

So once again, the Path through History project is associated with a non-tourist community-heritage program not designed to generate tax revenue.

How come there are path through history events listed on the path website outside the tourism season but no path through history tours are listed during the summer tourist season?

Even if I Love NY advertised on “Turn,” are there any American Revolution tours available on the Path website…or just a lot of sites (but not the signs of either Arnold’s or André’s escape routes that would be of interest to an American Revolution tourist buffs because signs are not museums).

capture199490

Tarrytown,Westchester County                                              Carmel, Putnam County
(Courtesy Researching Librarian and The Historical Marker Database)

Has anyone ever heard of Elderhostel? It’s not as if New York State has to reinvent the wheel. Just do what has been done for decades elsewhere.

How come the non-tourist community-heritage program is even located in I Love NY.

Happy 4-year old birthday, Path through History. May your future take a turn for the better. 

Recent Lower Hudson Valley History Meeting Highlights

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to attend and participate in three regional and county history community meetings:

delawareAphlogo

October 16: Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) annual meeting
October 24: APHNYS Region 3 also covering mainly the Hudson Valley
November 14: Sullivan County History Conference

These three meetings provided venues to meet with colleagues, discuss issues and topics, and learn what is going on. What follows then are some highlights from those meetings and this post is not intended to be a full report on what transpired.

Greater Hudson Heritage Network

This organization conducts an annual meeting in the Hudson Valley region and draws from people outside the region as well. It is a day-long conference with plenary speaker(s), concurrent sessions and includes lunch. These past two years it has been held at colleges so presumably there is no rent or it is nominal. This year Prof. Lisa Keller of Purchase College was the host. There is a fee to attend.

At the conference, Priscilla Brendler, Executive Director, spoke, among other things, on the Path through History. There were flyers for the June 18-19, 2016 dates and she urged people to participate in this program which helps provide vital statistical information on the state of history tourism in the state.

At the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Conference, Gavin Landry, Executive Director, I Love NY, mentioned that based on my posts on the Path through History, some changes had been made. He didn’t identify them but I suggest two such changes were on view here. One is based on my criticism of the “Simon says” aspect of the date selection leaving history sites and others scrambling to guess when the Path Weekend will occur. The second was organizations not having sufficient lead time to plan or having their June event on the correct date. The decision now is for Fathers Day weekend with plentiful advance notice.

Another change which I did know about was the relationship of GHHN to the Path through History weekend.  The flyer distributed at the meeting lists a GHHN phone number and email address for contact, questions, and updates. It would seem that the work for operating the Path Weekend has been outsourced to GHHN presumably for which GHHN gets paid. GHHN already operates some programs on a statewide basis and this appears to be another example of its expansion beyond the Hudson Valley. The history community would benefit from having a NYHN, a New York History Network although it should be noted that GHHN tends to focus on the backend of  history site operations and less on history itself or outreach. Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV) used to do that before it shifted its focus to the environment. So while there is (or used to be before the 2016 cancellation) a state history conference (NYSHA), regional and/or county ones are hard to find.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Professor Ken Jackson, Mr. New York State History. He was the keynote speaker at the launching of the Path though History in 2012. He had been personally recruited by Governor Cuomo to participate in the now defunct Path through History Taskforce which never really did much and was more for show. His talk addressed the same considerations as his keynote address three years earlier now with some perspective on the Path project he helped launch. Jackson referred to the project as one of “noise” and “not much else.” It was not well run or thought through. Cuomo takes credit for it but doesn’t do much for it. The financial support is down. Nothing Jackson said was new to regular readers of my posts

The contrast between the talks of Priscilla and Ken could not have been greater. Here in the briefest of time spans, one was able to experience the official view from the Albany-Manhattan bubble and the reality outside the bubble. Admittedly, I enjoy moments like this because they make writing posts so easy.

APHNYS Region 3

This was an excellent meeting organized by Suzanne Isaksen, regional coordinator Town of Montgomery historian and hosted by Mary Ellen Matise, Village of Walden Historian. The meeting was held in the historic village hall and public library and we were welcomed by the mayor. This was a day-long program with lunch on our own by walking to nearby places in the historic setting. There was a slight fee.

Three speakers from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP)  presented – Dan McEneny, Jennifer Betsworth, and Matthew Shephard. The program provided an overview of the Division for Historic Preservation and its programs, the process and criteria for National and State Register listings including tax advantages, and the new Cultural Resource Information Database (CRIS). We had the opportunity through CRIS to see maps identifying the cultural resources right in Walden where we were meeting. The database is a remarkable tool and if the history signs or markers could be added, it would be a terrific resource for the history community. You can not only see a site but access detailed information on it. This new website requires some thoughtful thinking and conversations with the history community on how it can best de used and developed. It can be located at https://cris.parks.ny.gov.

This session, which could be repeated throughout the state and at statewide conferences, made me realize a missing ingredient in the public historian training. As the New Historian session at the APHNYS state conference made clear, people become public historians in their communities often with little training or guidance. While there is some information at the APHNYS website (guidelines which need to be updated), municipal historians don’t necessarily know that APHNYS even exists. The challenges of being a municipal historian were the recent subject of Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun’s newsletter and post to New York History Blog

Recommendation – all public historians should receive and be required to receive state-funded training in Albany. Such training should include the NYS Archives, NYS Library, NYS Museum, NYSOPRHP and the NYS Historian. The program should include touring the facilities, meeting the staff, learning the resources available and the related rules, regulations, and requirements. This one-week training program will improve the professionalization of the municipal historian across the state, enhance the status of the position to the local mayors, town supervisors, and country executives, and help counter the isolation of the municipal historian. To establish the program actually is the simple part as each of the state entities in Albany could easily formulate such a program if asked. The challenge would be in funding. That would require a concerted effort by the history community to advocate for it, an activity which is conspicuously absent at present. At some point it would be beneficial to develop an agenda of what the history community wants from the state and then advocate for it.

Sullivan County History Conference

This was an excellent meeting organized by John Conway, Sullivan County historian. It was held at the Sullivan County Community College with the real credit belonging to Debra Conway as her husband repeatedly mentioned. Congratulations on a job well done. The program was funded by the Delaware Council and was free including lunch.

The stated intention is for this to be an annual event and it is an example of what every county should do. The attendance was over 70 people for this day-long event despite the snow flurries in the county and the near freezing weather. As I said in my keynote, when I left home in Westchester it was fall. When I arrived in Sullivan County it was winter.

This particular conference focused not on the history of Sullivan County but on the state of history. It included a video welcome from Congressional Representative Chris Gibson with whom I also shared the program when the Delaware Council was launched. Other speakers included fulltime county historians Johanna Yaun and Will Tatum III from Orange and Dutchess Counties. County history conferences were held there in 2011 before their time and I hope they will have one-day programs of their own soon. Johanna held a mini-conference in the summer which John and I attended and which partially served as a catalyst for this one.

The conference drew from a multitude of areas. Linda Oehler-Marx, a former teacher, spoke on the issue of finding a place for local history in the new social studies framework. This is a vital issue and there needs to be more discussion between the history community and the teachers on how to incorporate local and state history into the classroom even without field trips.

Social media was addressed in general terms by Johanna in her presentation and by Matt Colon, Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands. I commented on when I first got involved in local history, the State Archive Records Administration (SARA) grants were to microfilm records. Times and technology have changed. Here is an area where county-level workshops on how to take advantage of new technologies really would be useful.

The conference ended with a presentation by Kristina Heister, the Superintendent of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, NPS. Much of her talk was on the NPS which will be celebrating its centennial next year. She also mentioned Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, a study commissioned by the NPS. Marla Miller, one of the co-authors, spoke at a pre-conference workshop to the NYSHA conference at Marist in 2014. I spoke with her afterwards and then downloaded the 120-page report. I have read it but not yet written about it. Some of the recommendations are appropriate not only for the NPS sites in New York but for NYSOPHP as well. According to Kristina in terms of implementation the study is still a work-in-progress. I guess I have put off writing about it for long enough.

Of course, no history conference would be complete with noting the comments made about the Path through History. Although there were some perfunctory remarks made about its continued existence, the comments to the audience that it was an “ill-fated debacle” with no history community participation that fizzled out got right to heart of problem. One suggestion was a massive statewide letter-writing campaign addressed to the governor so perhaps he wouldn’t remain clueless.

History conferences are a lot of fun and I recommend more of them at the county and regional level. It also would be nice to have a master calendar for such county, regional, and state conferences. Maybe the new state historian once one is hired could take the lead here.

NY State History Month: Another View

November is New York State History Month. The goal of this initiative certainly is a worthy one. Naturally as historians, a primary source document such as a press release invites a close reading of the text. That’s what historians do and government publications are not exempt from such scrutiny. The exercise is quite productive and one can learn a lot from doing it.
Continue reading “NY State History Month: Another View”

RIP The Path Through History Taskforce

Once upon a time, as all good fairy tales begin, there was a New York State Path through History Taskforce. Some of you may even remember it. August 28, 2015, marked the three-year anniversary of the failed project and since the NYS Historian who was a member of that taskforce has resigned, it is beneficial to examine the fate of this taskforce for the lessons it teaches about what happened. Will we learn from the past or are we condemned to repeat it?

At the kickoff event for the Path project, attendees received two glossy, multicolored booklets. One had a list of the “iconic highway signage” which was to be produced; the other had the conference agenda, a description of the regions with a listing of the selected sites, and the taskforce bios. Continue reading “RIP The Path Through History Taskforce”

NYS History Fail: A Better Connecticut Example

June 6th and June 20th weekends offer two contrasting perceptions of how to celebrate the history of New York State. These two weekends highlight fundamental problems with New York State’s approach to state heritage and makes clear that the state of Connecticut demonstrates greater leadership and a more profound understanding of its history community.

Continue reading “NYS History Fail: A Better Connecticut Example”