Time For Heritage Community To Get In The Saddle

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This past Thursday and Friday, I attended the third annual Arizona Centennial Workshop, held at Arizona State University in Tempe. The attendance was relatively small, probably around 40 people or so, but it was an enthusiastic crowd that came from around the state. Most of the attendees were from the state's heritage community. This conference was a great opportunity to get a briefing on what's going to be happening for the Arizona State Centennial, while getting ideas to bring back to our individual communities.

There are probably two questions that many are asking: We have a state centennial coming up? Yes, in 2012 we will celebrate the admittance of Arizona to the union on Feb. 14, 1912. In 2012, you'll probably see an abundance of advertising featuring the centennial, including "centennial deals" at used car lots. You'll probably be tired of hearing about it in 2012. But that's exactly why the heritage community has to be planning now. For once in this state, we seem to be ahead of the curve, not behind. The second question people are probably asking is: What's being planned for the centennial? Well, we're still six years away so the planning is in the early stages, not to mention the funding for that planning. The state Legislature has placed the Arizona Historical Advisory Council (AHAC) in charge of centennial planning.

photo

Tim Ehrhardt

A small amount of money has already been allocated to the process -- $2,500,000. However, the Legislature made a mandate of in-kind contributions of $5,000,000 before that money can be released. In a nutshell, it's extremely complicated and still needs to be straightened out further.

One key component that's been partially put in place is "Legacy Projects." AHAC is giving this designation to projects that meet a variety of criteria. They are taking applications and approving designations at this point, as time permits. AHAC did not get any funding to plan centennial activities, so people need to be patient. Volunteers are working hand-in-hand together on this, many of whom are some of the brightest heritage minds that we have in this state. There is a fantastic Web site for information on this. It is www.azcentennial.gov.

The two keynote speakers at the conference were Dr. Rose Diaz, Director of the Political Archives at the Center for Southwest Studies at the University of New Mexico, and Dr. Dan Shilling, who recently spearheaded a civic tourism project at Sharlot Hall. Diaz talked a lot about community involvement and also gave some great insights into how to celebrate an anniversary. This year has been a big year in Albuquerque as the city is celebrating its tri-centennial. They've done a huge amount of events connected to this. One thing that struck a chord with me was a set of interviews with past living mayors. The town of Payson was incorporated in 1973, and to my knowledge we haven't done this. What an opportunity. It needs to be done here.

The concept of civic tourism is something that everyone in Rim Country should be asking our leaders about. In many ways, I think it's tourism for the 21st century. According to the civic tourism Web site, "civic tourism is an extension of and tool for other "place-based" approaches, such as cultural heritage tourism, ecotourism, and geotourism." It is a concept that is still evolving, but is a concept that requires the heritage community to have a seat at the "table" when tourism topics are being discussed. As Shilling said during this conference to heritage leaders, "You need to demand a seat at the table, and if they don't give you a seat at the table, then make your own table."

Shilling made four key points about what towns need to do: 1) Invest in product, 2) Integrate the story, 3) Reframe the purpose and 4) Connect to the public. "The horse has left the barn already," said Shilling. "It's time to saddle up."

On Thursday night, William Hart and Dr. Richard Toon from the Morrison Institute for Public Policy spoke on, "From Baby State to Megapolitan: Arizona Grows Up." A key concept was the population churn in Arizona. Statewide, for every five people that enter the state, three people leave. Ultimately, people bring their own ideas about "place" into our state and need to be educated about what our "place" really is. As Shilling said earlier that day, "The more the people know the history of the place, the more likely they are to be good stewards of place." I think that's important point for all of us in Rim Country to take note of since we have so many fine natural resources all around us, some of which are being taken care of better than others.

Friday morning workshops gave conference attendees the opportunity to hear about projects that have been done around the state. I found the Bisbee and Chandler workshops to be particularly insightful. Bisbee has had a lot of success integrating oral history projects with exhibits. They talked about three exhibits. "Mothers and Daughters," which was about growing up in Bisbee, immediately made me think of the Daughters of Gila County Pioneers. Just as our local women have had success with their books, the "Mothers and Daughters" exhibit proved to be quite popular. The second exhibit mentioned, which was about miners, was not as successful. According to Carrie Gustavson, the Director of the Bisbee Museum, it was because people couldn't relate as well to the miners' stories. The third exhibit was entitled "Meanwhile back at the ranch" and was very successful. Bisbee is successfully using oral histories. Not only have they aggressively pursued new oral histories, but they've managed to more properly archive past oral histories, even bringing them over to CD. The big benefit of putting them on CD? Segments of oral history interviews are now being played on Bisbee radio with much success. Wouldn't that be great to have happen here?

The Chandler presentation was also quite interesting. They've done a series of kiosks containing historical information in their parks. They dedicate each one with a neighborhood event. According to Jean Reynolds, the Public History Coordinator for the City of Chandler, these kiosks only cost about $6,000. Needless to say, I busily wrote down as many details as I could about her suppliers of these kiosks. I think the placement of a few throughout Rim Country would be fantastic.

Reynolds also highlighted a history program they did involving street names. It's been a very popular item and it's something I've seen done elsewhere. Last summer, when I was visiting relatives south of Fond du Lac, Wis., I noticed that you could tune into local radio frequencies while you were driving along to hear historic information about those streets. Do you know who Payson's streets are named for?

The conference closed with a summary session led by Shilling and Diaz. Some quotes jumped out at me during this last session. Shilling emphasized a challenge that Payson shares with many communities throughout the state: "How do we fold this natural sense of place into the cultural sense of place?" Dr. Noel Stowe of Arizona State University said, "We have to help our new arrivals call Arizona home." Shilling followed that up with yet another memorable quote, "Let's go out and build microbrewed communities."

Clearly the Arizona heritage community has a number of opportunities and challenges as we near our state centennial. Locally, we probably have the best six-year segment to make things happen that we will have in a longtime. Next year will be the 125th anniversary of the founding of Payson, 2009 will be our 125th rodeo and the 125th anniversary of Payson getting a post office. 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of football at Camp Tontozona, an event that's helped bring many city dwellers to our cool pines. 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the completion of Roosevelt Dam, which it should be noted, was being built a hundred years ago at this time using many workers from Rim Country. 2012, of course, is our state centennial. The opportunity is there. Now we have to step up and answer the call.

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