THE DILEMMA OF INTERPRETING AND CONSERVING THE PAST AT NEW YORK STATE'S HISTORIC SITES
DEBORAH LEE TRUPIN, DAVID BAYNE, MARIE CULVER, NANCY DEMYTTENAERE, HEIDI MIKSCH, & JOYCE ZUCKER
An aging historic site system presents endless tasks demanding new and innovative solutions. Not all new solutions prove workable or desirable. Nonetheless, museum professionals must proceed with their responsibilities while keeping a cautious eye on the quick-fix and the ultimate solution.
At the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, project teams have proved to be useful in recognizing and solving problems ranging from the presentation of a portrait to comprehensive room restoration. When representatives of the sites, regions, and Peebles Island meet to plan a project's advancement, items needing resolution are discussed in an open forum. While not everyone may concur in all aspects of the final decision, everyone is heard. This approach is a great stride forward from the custodial-style management of the historic sites in previous years, when decisions were handed down from a central authority with little, if any, additional contribution.
But more than just museum administration has changed in the past 20 years. Equally important, visitors to historic sites have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable. They have also become more demanding. New York State's historic site system competes with other cultural, recreational, and entertainment activities for visitors' interest and support. Historic sites are under continual pressure to increase visitation by offering unique types of experiences. At the same time, New York State Parks' mission statement calls for responsible stewardship of the state's natural, historical, and cultural resources. The conservators at New York State's Bureau of Historic Sites will continue to be tested in their dual roles as facilitators and preservers of the vulnerable and nonrenewable collections committed to their care.
The authors are grateful to New York State's Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation for supporting our writing of this paper and to Kristin L. Gibbons of the Bureau of Historic Sites for her assistance in editing.