Once you collect your stories, and identify and develop your themes, you will want to present them to the public to promote and advocate for your place. The value of a place is rarely so obvious that it can’t benefit from vibrant interpretation. Educational products such as exhibits, tours, and films are often said to be “interpretive” because they interpret, or choose, the most significant things to say about a topic.
Below are ideas for presentations that:
- Promote research;
- Convey information;
- Are relatively time and cost effective;
- Take advantage of existing outreach and publicity opportunities.
In considering these (and other) strategies for making the significance of your place known to a wider public, consider your goals, budget, interests, and the mix of skills, materials and so on that you have to work with.
Step 1: Write a Place Profile
Place profiles are the most direct way to convey to others why your place matters.
A place profile is a document that:
- Establishes basic facts about a place;
- Presents a narrative (in the manner of a story) about why the place is important.
A place profile need not be lengthy, or cost a lot to put together. But you do need to write it down. Putting time into its preparation will pay off later, because you’ll be ready to present your case as opportunities arise, such as:
- Inquiries from the press about the place;
- Offers to create an online resource such as a web page;
- Requests for nominations of places for public recognition;
- Publishing brochures, leaflets, posters, and other promotional materials;
- Submitting it to a newsletter, magazine, or as a “letter to the editor.”
Plus, the process of writing down what you know may lead you to discover new connections among events you hadn’t recognized before, to understand where holes in the information demand new research, and to compare and consider different accounts.
Guidelines for Writing a Place Profile
A good place profile is a combination of the specific details that make your place interesting, and the larger historical themes that tie it to a particular place and time. If you’re having trouble getting started, think about your place from a visitor’s point of view.
What are the key things that everybody must know about this place? Also ask yourself how you can enrich the standard account, and what surprises you can offer.
There are particulars that you will want to be attentive to as you create and polish your place profile:
- Be accurate and specific, especially when including uncorroborated information.
The place profile is the baseline for all your subsequent presentations. Errors made here are likely to be repeated. When you cannot verify accuracy but still want to include someone’s statement or memory, attribute the statement to the source, presenting it as a personal memory rather than fact:
YES: “Long-time resident Mary Sack remembers that ‘when I first came here in 1937 there was a large brass clock tower.”
NO: “In 1937 there was a large brass clock tower.”
- Connect the physical location to stories and themes that are either broadly interesting, or have a particular relevance to your audience. Convey your interest and excitement about your place by making clear how it figures into the larger themes you have identified.
- Engage the issues. It’s tempting to avoid controversial issues by concentrating on the uncontestable facts about a place and skirting the intense emotion or political passion that may lie just under the surface. Think twice. Consider engaging the conflict directly, perhaps by presenting multiple viewpoints.
- Include contemporary and historical photographs with your narrative to help people visualize what they’re reading.
- Keep track of your sources as you write. Most people quickly forget the sources they used while writing, but you must be able to easily verify your own work as you make the case for your place (although this information need not appear in the published profile). So, be sure to “footnote” as you write: carefully note the sources for all the information you use by noting titles and publication dates of books or articles and the page number(s) on which the cited information appears, as well as names of interviewees and the date of the interview that produced the cited information.
Examples of Place Profiles: Kurdish Library & Museum, Mandolin Brothers, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Step 2: Make a Public Presentation
Sharing the fruits of your research in public helps build interest and attract supporters.
You’ve put a lot of time and energy into researching your place and creating a place profile. Now it’s time to convey in public the information you’ve gathered and prepared. This is a key step in educating others about why your place matters, and advocating for it in the face of threats.
Possibilities for public program formats include:
- Panels with a mix of academic and community scholars, and people with first-hand testimony to share
- Public conversations between interviewer and interviewee
- Conversation combined with a performance (theatrical, musical, etc.) that enhances learning about the topic;
- Dramatized retelling of events
- Tour(s) of the site led by “insiders”
- Any other format you can imagine that suits your audience and your goals
Using the Internet as a Presentation Format
Another way to make a public presentation about your place is to put it online, where people can access it at any time, reference it after you make public presentations, and link to it from their own online materials. The ways to put something online are too numerous to include here. But if you want to do it, and don’t already know how to do so, put the word out to other stakeholders who care about the place, and keep your ears open as you meet with different people. Chances are someone with both the skills for putting information online and enthusiasm about your place will appear.
Public Program Case Study: “From Mambo to Hip Hop,” The South Bronx
Step 3: Secure Public Recognition
Convincing others to give special recognition to your place promotes research, and publicizes its importance.
One strategy for drawing attention to your place is to convince others to single it out for recognition. This public acknowledgement of the importance of a place can generate publicity, which may in turn lead you to uncover new sources of information, as well as new supporters for the place.
There are many ways to secure public recognition of a place. These are a few options, listed in ascending order of complexity:
- If your place is in New York City, nominate it to the Census of Places that Matter, the citywide survey conducted by Place Matters. You can do this online at www.placematters.net, or mail in the form included in the appendices of this toolkit. Your nomination may attract others to add comments and provide their own information about the place. It also might set in motion follow-up research and promotion by Place Matters.
- Get endorsements by public figures. Consider the public officials, religious authorities, professional organizations, civic groups, and so on that might be interested in your place. Many of them give awards, write proclamations, and do other things that recognize noteworthy efforts. To determine which avenues to endorsements to pursue, review the information you’ve gathered and note your place’s strong points—its architecture, its connection(s) to a particular religious group, significant historical times or events, etc. Then research the possibilities for endorsements, and the steps involved in requesting the endorsement.
- Consider nominating the place for listing on State and National Registers of Historic Places. These are lists of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Register listing brings tax benefits and some measure of protection in the form of extra scrutiny if a site is threatened (called a “Section 106 Review” in the National Historic Preservation Act). It cannot, however, prevent demolition. Register listing is principally valuable in the honor it bestows, by announcing to society at large that a place has been significant in the history of the state and country. When Place Matters helped to get the building that houses Casa Amadeo Record Store in the Bronx on the State and National Registers, it was the first listing that recognized Puerto Rican migration to the mainland U.S.For more information about Register listing as a “traditional cultural property,” see the next section of the Toolkit: Protecting Your Place, Option 2: Retaining Longstanding Use.
To find non-profit groups or private consultants who may be able to assist you with a National Register nomination, start by contacting the Neighborhood Preservation Center at 212.228.2781, www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org.