This article originally appeared in the Edwardsville Intelligencer
Creating and employing a strategy to balance historical preservation with economic development is the topic of a panel discussion that includes Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Jeff Manuel. He is an assistant professor from the Department of Historical Studies with the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Marketing Our Heritage? Cultural Conservation and Economic Development” will take place Saturday, March 22 from 2-4 p.m. at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville.
Whether communities should use their cultural heritage to create jobs and revenue is one topic that Manuel and other panel experts will cover. Examples of effective practices for generating economic opportunity from local culture, while also protecting it and keeping it healthy, will also be discussed.
Audiences will be invited to take a survey as a starting point for discussion, using their cell phones to answer multiple-choice questions in a real-time gathering of research.
Economic development and history are very different things, said Manuel, and they don’t necessarily move in the same direction.
“Trying to develop or redevelop an area’s economy while simultaneously maintaining its historical significance is difficult,” he said. “There are a lot of cases where projects tried to serve both masters – history and economic development – and ended up leaving everyone unsatisfied.
“But there are also some good examples out there where a balance has been found. During this discussion, I look forward to sharing those examples and why they worked.”
The first step in achieving a balance, said Manuel, is for both camps to begin the process with realistic expectations.
“History and preservation-minded projects can be valuable tools for economic development, but they will never be a panacea for developing local or regional economies,” he said. “In the competition for scarce development resources, promoters of history projects can get carried away and start making projections that will lead to heartache down the road.
“Secondly, history and preservation efforts seem to work best when there is widespread buy-in and support from the community.”
Thirdly, according to Manuel, history and preservation projects need to be rooted in accurate and authentic histories.
“You can’t simply drop in a generic or inauthentic history without creating a phony ‘tourist trap’ atmosphere,” Manuel said.
Public-private partnerships and entrepreneurial approaches are essential, today more than ever, to create the necessary revenue streams to fund and sustain a project in light of major cutbacks at the federal, state and local levels, according to Manuel.
“It’s important that those of us working in this field make the case for why these programs are so important and deserve public funding,” he said.
The event is free and open to the public, with advance registration requested. To reserve a seat, email the IHC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, contact Matt Meacham at (312) 422-5589 or email@example.com. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located at 30 Ramey Street in Collinsville.