October 22, 2012

The CHAPS Conference: A Personal Perspective on Preservation of Cultural Landscapes

by Kaitlin King Murphy, ARCA Alum 2011

The CHAPS conference ("Cultural Landscapes: Preservation Challenges in the 21st Century, October 12-14, 2011, Rutger's University) allowed me to see a new dimension of cultural heritage preservation and protection.  Landscapes themselves are tangible but as we heard from the presenters, there is a spiritual dimension that is lost to a Westernized mindset.  In celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, I was pleased to learn about other cultures and what they have been doing behind the scenes for years in terms of preserving and protecting their lands.  These voices truly provided important perspectives on what we can do both locally and internationally to move forward in sharing the natural landscape.

In the news, we hear about war torn countries and their cultural losses within their landscapes which include geographical territories, sacred burial grounds, statues and other art works. Closer to home in the US, we have our own deep cultural history that has been firmly rooted in our terrain that is lost to development, environmental forces, and general lack of understanding.  From Pueblos to Olmsted planned gardens, we have our own struggles in how to preserve, re-discover, and protect our heritage.  We are fortunate because there are public and non-profit organizations dedicated to these sites as money is allotted and raised for such endeavors.  The challenge is in how to work together to establish and reach goals to continue with our combined traditions.

The conference was a great platform for the collaboration of efforts and helped me understand the importance of cultural landscapes through a non-Westernized perspective.  Thinking in this way was a bit of a deviation from my usual, show up at a world class museum and apply a Western interpretation to the history to the art works.  The landscapes are the museums, living museums.  While I don't practice the traditions of the other cultural groups, I can appreciate their pride, thankfulness, and dedication to their cultural preservation. 

The way in how we use and interpret our land is an art form across the world.