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Preserving Stories, Not Just Structures: Reflections from the Saving Places '24 Conference

Every year, Jess and I eagerly anticipate the Saving Places conference hosted by Colorado Preservation Inc (CPI), a cherished event that has grown in significance over the decades. CPI, dedicated to preserving historic places since 1984, goes beyond the mere conservation of old buildings. Their mission, centered around creating a future with historic places, resonates with us as we recognize the impact of historic preservation on building a sense of place, enhancing communities, and revitalizing economies. Through initiatives like the Colorado’s Most Endangered Places Program and the Dana Crawford & State Honor Awards, CPI collaborates with a diverse range of stakeholders. The Saving Places Conference, held annually for over 20 years, serves as a dynamic platform for discussions, addressing common concerns, and celebrating collective achievements in safeguarding Colorado's heritage.

Jess (left) and Jasmine (right) at the Saving Places 2024 Conference

What truly makes this conference special is the commitment of organizers to bring engaging, enlightening, and thought-provoking speakers and sessions to attendees. As an archaeologist, the concept of historic preservation is ever-present in my mind – how do we protect what we value, and what does this protection look like? How do we ensure respectful access to these resources? Attending a cross-disciplinary conference like Saving Places provides a powerful tool for understanding the complexity and nuances of these questions. This year, what left the deepest impact on me was the tangible shift across industries in the perception of preservation.

Bonnie McDonald, President and CEO of the statewide nonprofit Landmark Illinois, delivered a compelling talk on the concept of relevance within historic preservation. She shed light on the prevailing perception that preservation often revolves around a culture of preciousness, prioritizing the preservation of physical structures over the human connections that breathe life into these resources. McDonald spearheaded the Relevancy Project, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at transforming the approach to preservation from assessment to action. Recognizing that people are intrinsically linked to historic places, she emphasized that it is the individuals who infuse meaning and context into these places, shaping our shared history. Just as the destruction of these places can unravel the fabric of a community, their preservation plays a crucial role in maintaining a vital sense of connection between generations. Unfortunately, not everyone grasps the significance and relevance of history. The Relevancy Project seeks to bridge this gap by creatively aligning priorities between communities and preservationists.

For more information on this innovative project, you can explore the details here: The Relevancy Guidebook:

Monica Rhodes, keynote speaker, Saving Places 2024 conference

Monica Rhodes, a dynamic figure in historic preservation, brought forth a thought-provoking perspective during her keynote speech, challenging the notion that places are more important than people. With a remarkable career marked by raising and managing over $150 million, overseeing preservation activities in 46 states, and successfully completing projects in more than 100 national parks, Rhodes is a trailblazer in diversifying the preservation industry. She not only developed the first national program centered on diversifying the preservation industry but also led efforts to reinstitute significant initiatives preserving national parks' narratives related to African American, LatinX, and Women’s history.

Rhodes, with an academic foundation in History from the University of Tulsa and master's degrees in African–American Studies from Temple University and Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, achieved notable milestones that earned her recognition as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. Her impactful speech focused on the concept of "thinking 50 years ahead," emphasizing the layered and complex nature of history, a compilation of diverse narratives.

 To preserve these stories, Rhodes stressed the importance of considering historic sites and landmarks that contribute to a broader understanding of American history. Shockingly, less than 20% of historic sites represent the majority of Americans—Latinx, Black, Asian-American, Women, and LGBTQ. With projections indicating that more than a third of the country will be of non-white ethnicity by 2070, Rhodes passionately conveyed that these stories risk being lost if immediate action is not taken.

For further insights into Monica Rhodes' impactful work, you can explore her website:

Jess presenting on stage at the Savings Places 2024 conference with Jasmine seated to the right

Rhodes' compelling call to action, resonating with the conference's central theme, etched a lasting impression in my mind. It's precisely this inspiration that fuels Jess and me in our passionate commitment to Community Connections. The conference emphasized that the stories woven into the fabric of our communities matter profoundly, and without dedicated preservation efforts, they risk slipping away. Our recent presentation at the conference delved into the intertwining realms of archaeology, preservation, and community engagement. As featured speakers, we championed the idea of prioritizing communities when safeguarding our historic cultural resources.

In alignment with influential trailblazers like Bonnie McDonald and Monica Rhodes, the conference not only rekindled my inspiration but reconnected me with the profound personal impact of our work. Each year, it serves as a poignant reminder of the vital role history plays in shaping our communities. What a remarkable way to kick off the year!

Thanks for spending time with me while I reflect today! See you in a couple weeks!

Jasmine 🌳

Jasmine (left) and Jess (right).

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Stay tuned for our next blog in two weeks!

Jasmine & Jess (J&J) 🌳

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