Director’s spotlight: Hard work and hope

This story appeared in the February issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

A month into this new year — one filled with hope for national healing and a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel — the Preservation Resource Center marches towards the half-century mark, and officially turns 47 years old. I don’t have to describe to anyone reading this column the difficulties that 2020 brought, and in particular, the dire threats the pandemic posed to nonprofit organizations. It was an anxiety-riddled year, and the uncertainty of what tragedies lay ahead was almost overwhelming back in March when the world shut down.

Our leadership team and board were laser-focused on keeping the PRC stable, and I am so proud and grateful to say that not only did we make it through 2020 safely as an organization, but that we have thrived, evolving to meet the challenges we faced and finding new ways to serve the public and advocate to save historic buildings and neighborhoods.

PRC has not been immune to current struggles, and we have had to make sacrifices. We downsized a bit, and our revenue has suffered with the loss of in-person events. But we are immensely blessed to have donors who continue to generously support our work; a talented and dedicated staff who continue to innovate; and a board who spends thousands of collective volunteer hours working to ensure our organization’s success. These are not gifts I take for granted.

Thanks to this support, PRC had some great successes in 2020. We turned our Holiday Home Tour, a storied, 45-year-old tradition, into a smashing video series, effectively becoming television producers overnight. We certainly weren’t planning that, and it was a thrill to be able to reach viewers around the world (literally) and share New Orleans’ beauty and special holiday traditions in this new way.

Our educational programs transformed as well, bringing specific information to a new worldwide audience online, with topics such as climate change resilience, home maintenance issues and the fate of local businesses in uncertain times.

We continued to print nine issues of Preservation in Print magazine, another important tradition, despite a small dip in advertising revenue. At a time when everything has gone digital, we remain committed to the printed word for as long as we can afford to print our magazine. Its prevalence nationally is an enormous point of pride for all affiliated with PRC.

And we preserved buildings despite it all. Our thriving social media accounts alerted residents, for example, to the proposed demolition of two historic buildings Uptown to make way for one new mega-residence — and the outcry was conclusive. Letters flowed to City Hall to oppose this loss of historic fabric, and the proposal was denied. More proactively, our staff convened dozens of community meetings via Zoom to involve residents across the city in topics that affected their neighborhoods.

Two of those efforts resulted in new state Cultural Districts: the A.P. Tureaud Cultural District in the Seventh Ward, and the Touro-Bouligny Cultural District Uptown. In both instances, a few residents brought the desire for their neighborhoods to be designated to the PRC’s attention, but it was the ability to convene residents quickly and conveniently through Zoom that made collaboration and the resulting designations possible. Going virtual hasn’t been all bad.

The PRC worked with residents of the Seventh Ward to designate the neighborhood as a Louisiana Cultural District. Photo by Liz Jurey.

This new year has exciting opportunities ahead. We are working to launch our Maintain Right educational series in a virtual format, so that anyone in need of information on how to maintain or fix their historic home or building can come to our website for instant, in-depth answers. It will be a truly transformative resource for members of our community and property owners across the Gulf South. We will continue to serve homeowners in need through the Revival Grants program. We will continue to offer fresh and innovative digital programming to educate and entertain people on a variety of preservation-related topics. And we will continue to strive to meet our mission of existing in “service to our community.”

There are true challenges related to homeownership and maintenance facing New Orleans’ residents right now. The cost of owning and properly maintaining a historic property continues to skyrocket, while our economy as a city is struggling. Homeownership and proper care for a home are not luxuries, and should not be available to only the wealthy.

The PRC’s staff and board is meeting soon to discuss a strategic vision for this new year and those to come, and we will continue to evolve to meet our community’s needs in innovative ways. More to come.

In the meantime, for those of you who have supported PRC through this trying time, please accept my most heartfelt gratitude. We continue to thrive, and look forward to serving the community in this new year.

Danielle Del Sol is the Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center.

 

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