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Preservation’s Expanded Field: Art, Activism and Hidden History - a lecture by Marisa Angell Brown.
Preservation practice and the public humanities have large areas of overlap, and these synchronicities are growing as preservation becomes more interpretive, more interdisciplinary, more “experimental,” more participatory, and more engaged with social and political issues as they relate to place – and as the “spatial turn” within the humanities has centered the study and use of place. As the field changes, there is a need to develop new theories and methodologies for doing more engaged, community-centered preservation work that is informed by museum and library practice, public history, contemporary art, and community activism. This presentation argues that preservation is at a pivotal point of transformation, that the disciplinary borders of the field are shifting, and that deep structural change within the field is required in its practice, curriculum and culture. It suggests that the expanding transdisciplinary “field” of the public humanities – which links critical thinking and creative practice in the humanities with public engagement and community co-creation – provides a model for this new preservation practice. In particular, the presentation considers participatory or social practice art, defined as art-making in which social interaction is itself the artistic medium and end goal, as a way of centering social relations through preservation practice in this expanded field.
Marisa Angell Brown is the Assistant Director for Programs at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University, where she teaches a graduate seminar titled Critical Approaches to Preservation and Cultural Heritage. Brown received a PhD in the History of Art from Yale University, and an MA in History from the University of Chicago. She is the author of “Preservation’s Expanded Field” in Doing Public Humanities (Routledge, forthcoming), and numerous articles and reviews on American visual culture, urban history, architecture, and preservation. Current projects include a multi-year series of exhibitions at Brown titled The Providence Album, examining the life of the city in the 1960s-1980s through the work of significant Providence-based photographers, and an article on the challenges that racialized representations of Black and Indigenous peoples in US National Historic Landmark buildings pose for the field of preservation. Brown’s exhibitions and public projects have been covered by Architectural Record, Metropolis, the Providence Journal, the Hartford Courant, the Associated Press, Rhode Island NPR, and NBC10.