Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Live from Nashville

I'm in Nashville this week at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Annual Conference. It's exciting to have a chance to visit a city I might never have been to otherwise, although truth be told, I haven't seen much of it yet! I arrived in the rain late yesterday afternoon, attended a reception in the hotel last night, spent the day (rainy again) in training sessions in the hotel, and finally ventured out late this afternoon to go to the Opening Plenary Session at the historic Ryman Auditorium, the "mother church of country music."

After a few songs by a local singer/songwriter, we heard some news about new and continuing National Trust initiatives, and then our two keynote speakers took the stage. Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust in England, spoke about her organization's programs in the sustainability arena, particularly their efforts to connect locally grown, seasonal food with a larger ethic of more sustainable living at their historic sites. She noted that western nations, whose lifestyles over the past 50 years have been so negatively impacting our global climate, need to change our ways and begin living in a more responsible, sustainable way, "and to help us, we have a recession." With the recession, people are finally starting to rethink the need to constantly buy more things, and are seeking out simpler, authentic activities to connect them with family and community - perfectly playing into our interests.

The second keynote speaker was author Bill McKibben, who talked about climate change and the need for immediate action to reduce emissions. He made the interesting point that climate threatens culture as well as the environment, in that our connection to past events and cultural patterns is certain to change. As an example, he pointed to Vermont, where he said forecasts indicate that by the end of the century there will be no more snow; how will we relate to Robert Frost's poetry about snowy New England woods when the New England woods have no more snow? He also showed us a short video from the Maldives, where the land is just a few feet about sea level; with rising sea levels, their entire country may cease to exist. Bill is involved in the organization, which is planning worldwide actions on October 24 to demand global action to combat this threat to our planet and our culture.

After the plenary session, I headed to the opening reception, held at an Art Deco post office converted into a gorgeous art museum, where I caught up with colleagues from the Trust and other organizations and met new people as well.

Tomorrow's schedule includes an overview bus tour of Nashville (I hope the skies clear so I can actually SEE Nashville by then!), the annual advocacy luncheon (Laura Bush is this year's keynote speaker), and afternoon sessions on sustainability and modern resources, followed by an evening candlelight tour of houses in East Nashville.

The National Trust is offering opportunities to be a "virtual attendee" of several sessions - check out their website to find out how!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services
(Photos: A view of Nashville "honkytonks," from the hotel; and the historic Ryman Auditorium after the plenary session.)


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