What Do You Do?
By James H. Schwartz | From Preservation | May/June 2011
I need a new elevator speech. For the past couple of years, when asked, "What do you do?" I've said, "I work for a magazine." Sometimes (depending on the height of the building and the length of our vertical journey) there's an opportunity to mention Preservation and explain that it's the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But that's where things often seem to run off the rails. "Do you put the plaques on houses in my neighborhood?" No, that's probably your local historical society or conservation easement organization. "Do you run that collection of historic gardens in England and Wales?" No, that's the National Trust in the United Kingdom, not the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States. "Are you part of the U.S. government?" Nope. Federally chartered. Self-supporting. Not reliant on tax dollars.
Let's face it, plenty of existing members and loads of supporters aren't exactly sure what we do. And who can blame them? As the stories in this issue of Preservation demonstrate, the National Trust does a lot in many different corners of the country.
We maintain 29 National Trust Historic Sites, which are implementing dynamic new approaches to preservation and tourism. (Learn about the initiative under way at Woodlawn in Virginia.) We help local preservationists fighting to protect cherished places in their communities (see Transitions). We promote the vitality of Modernist architecture (check out the Mies van der Rohe towers) and buildings from the recent past. We play a key role in the effort to preserve historic landscapes, including the successful campaign to protect Virginia's Wilderness Battlefield from inappropriate development. (We continue to work with Walmart to identify appropriate locations for new construction.) And the Trust is about to embark upon a new campaign to save Civil War-era contraband sites, as you'll see in Eric Wills' moving story).
So what about that elevator speech? It's actually pretty simple. All of us at the National Trust work to save the places that matter—to you. We share your love of historic places. We're on your side.
You'll learn about countless amazing sites, and numerous inspiring National Trust programs, in every issue of Preservation. And if we run into each other in the elevator, you won't have to ask me what I do—you'll already know. That will give me time to thank you for your support of preservation, and for your support of the work of the National Trust.
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.