Focusing on Sites
The Trust's new Vice President of Historic Sites shares his vision for the future
By Magazine Editors | From Preservation | November/December 2011
In March, Estevan Rael-Gálvez was named Vice President of Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Rael-Gálvez received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He sat down with the editors of Preservation in August.
Q: Estevan, how did you come to the National Trust?
Throughout this journey, I have often asked myself the very same question! Prior to joining the Trust, I had the privilege of serving as the executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, which includes an art museum, a performing arts center, an archive and library, and an educational department.
Before working at the NHCC, I served for eight years as the state historian of New Mexico and as the chairman of the Cultural Properties Review Committee, the advisory policy-making board that oversees the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and establishes preservation policy for the state.
Q: The Trust's collection of historic sites is so varied and far-flung. What appealed to you about leading the department?
Honestly, I loved being in New Mexico and I loved my work. But as I immersed myself in the application processes, I recognized that the Trust was undergoing a major evolution. The leadership here was open to a new way of imagining and envisioning sites, and this was a great invitation to take a risk. I was and I am excited to lead the effort to reframe the sites where community, consciousness, and creativity are core preservation values. These sites have the potential for cultivating new forms of knowledge, and at the same time inspiring community development and renewal.
Q: What do you see as your primary ongoing challenge ?
Creative change is never easy, but this is precisely the challenge before us. We are living in a moment of dramatic transition. Museums in general are facing incredible challenges, and house museums fare even worse, as fiscal support and attendance drop and questions of relevance are at the forefront. The dual edge of growing up now in the United States means that because of advances in technology and instantaneous access to global information, the concepts of race and nation and divisions will mean less to this generation than ever before—maybe. Yet, my fear is that this may also mean that history and a connection to place may gradually diminish in importance. While I hope I am wrong about that, the Trust must be prepared to address the potential changes, as it has done many times in the past. How we respond to these changes will help to define the future of preservation.
Q: Will the National Trust always steward historic sites?
The relationships and models may change over time, but I believe that the National Trust will always be a leader in the stewardship of historic sites.
Q: If you had a crystal ball, would you predict that there will be more or fewer National Trust Historic Sites in 2020?
As we strengthen the core and broaden our outreach, I envision dramatically growing our network of affiliated historic sites.
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