Closing it Out (and a bit about Nashville Food)

I know it has been a few weeks since the end of the National Preservation Conference, but I wanted to make sure to provide a closing post. On Friday after dispatching the last of the field sessions those remaining in town made our way over to BB Kings for the Final Fling which included a live auction and music from Last Train Home.

Interior of the Downtown Pres. ChurchBut there was more to come. Saturday dawned bright and early for us with the Closing Plenary in the Downtown Presbyterian Church, an example of Egyptian Revival architecture. We were about to be treated to a talk by Chief Justice of Indiana Randall Shepard and Congressman and Civil Rights Leader John Lewis of Georgia.

Fisk Jubilee SingersBefore we talk about them let me say a few words about the Fisk Jubilee Singers. First started in 1876 as a means to raise money for Fisk University (the first American University to offer a liberal arts education without any stipulations as to race) the group is now known for preserving one of America’s greatest treasures—that which the website refers to as the negro spiritual. Let me say from first hand experiences that those voices rose in perfect harmony, bouncing off the walls with a clarity and resonance so vivid and vital that I got chills.

As for the talks-despite coming from two tangentially different directions (preservation and law/preservation and civil rights/politics)-Chief Justice Shepard and Congressman Lewis had ultimately one message for preservationists. The Chief Justice surmised our mission in one eloquent sentence, that “we stand up for livability, for a sense of place and architecture that lifts up the soul rather than deadens it.” His words were followed quickly by a call for continued agitation by Congressman Lewis who proclaimed that “If we do not fight for these places then history wont be kind to us.” In both speeches there was a rallying call that said, to borrow a popular phrase from the National Trust at this conference, what we do matters. That preserving buildings, music, and the spectacular architecture that Nashville has to offer effects how people live and breathe and connect with the world around them.

This dialogue intermingled with my thoughts on the music, the lights and the life in Tennessee and led me to ponder the following question: Where do we go from here?

Union Station Hotel in Nashville

All right. Maybe not. But it does allow me to segue into the final event of the conference (for me at least) which was the Forum Lunch, and I urge everyone who is interested on where Preservation should be and could be going in the next fifty years to take a look at Don Rypkema’s talk here. Particularly intriguing for me was his assertion that as historic preservationists we should work (at least in urban areas) to manage change over time and not necessarily a point fixed in time. At the heart of his talk he is asking us about how we remain relevant in a world that incorrectly sees history and historic preservation as a luxury, as something that will not create jobs, will not help the economy, and is not important enough to consider a priority at every level of living. He says that we are evolving–(for those not familiar with it, This Place Matters is a program of the National Trust that asks citizens to look at the world around them and identify the places that matter to them.)

Here is my test – look at what made the list of the National Trust’s “This Place Matters” program. Virtually none of the finalists met the test of either being an architectural masterpiece or of particular significance to our national history. Those places were nominated because they mattered to the local community and in many cases not on architectural grounds. I for one think that is a wonderful way for historic preservation to have evolved.

Stained Glass at Union Station Hotel

I say that this is exceedingly clear when we think about the evolution of historical thought in the last few decades. We have moved from looking only at the big men of history to understanding the everyday—the people on the streets, the forgotten and the silenced. Social history has done amazing things for democratizing what we know about our pasts and our future—we can now step inside museums and watch on television stories that make connections on a more visceral level than before. It is the same way with Historic Preservation whose history may have began with the rich and the elite but has long since moved to a movement that seeks to preserve the places we live in, the character of neighborhoods, the places that, in essence, make the world unique and diverse in every sense of the word.

So I think my one takeaway from this conference is that we have to be open to expanding our definitions and boundaries, looking to new horizons to let the past and present stand the test into the future.

Shrimp & Grits from Prime 108Whew. Did you think I was going to forget to talk about the food?

This is one of those towns where being a Vegetarian is really difficult—luckily I eat chicken, and boy did I eat a lot of it.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. The Fried Chicken at BB Kings
  2. While the Mac n’ Cheese I had at Robert Hicks’ house was to die for, I’ll just say that Nashvillians know how to make a mean mac n’ cheese.Mike's Ice Cream Fountain-Ceiling detail
  3. Make sure to check out Mike’s on Broadway by the River where you can get some of the most delicious ice cream cones out there.
  4. For brunch—go fancy and hit up the Wyndham Union Station (Prime 108) where I had some delicious French Toast, and my friend had some true southern grits with shrimp. While we waited for food we ogled the stained glass windows.

Don’t forget to Check out the pictures on Picasa!

National Preservation Conference in Nashville

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