A Note on Engagement: The Flower House in Detroit

I also really enjoyed the concept of the Funeral for a Home and wanted to compare it to the Flower House installation in Detroit.  Like Mantua in Philadelphia, Detroit has a long history of population loss, disinvestment, and residential vacancies.  Hamtramck, where the Flower House installation took place, is actually a city within the city of Detroit that has been comparatively steadily populated by first-generation immigrants (it was a city of predominantly Polish immigrants during the first half of the 20th century and is now home to immigrants hailing predominantly from Middle Eastern countries).  While living in Detroit, I remember the Flower House installation attracting a lot of media attention and considered it to be a successful way of bringing in people to a part of the city that they normally would not venture out to.  However, after learning about the level of community involvement that was incorporated in planning the Funeral for a Home, I am disappointed that Lisa Waud, coordinator of the Flower House, did not use the installation as a opportunity for engagement with local residents.  While Lisa Waud is a florist and not a public historian nor a grassroots activist, her Flower House idea highlights a common issue that often occurs in community-based projects in Detroit.  All too often, outsiders will alter the social or physical landscape of the city without ever interacting with the residents who live there and assessing their needs and wants as community members.  While the Funeral for a Home gave agency to residents in the community they were working in, the Flower House effectively strips agency from local residents.  I think this is a valuable lesson for public history that is reflected in Nina Simon’s discussion of relevancy… engage engage engage with the local community!

Link to an article about the Flower House installation:

Flower House in Detroit


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Funeral For a Home

During our class discussion last week, I found the article on funeral for a home quite interesting.  As we all live in Atlanta we can see how gentrification takes place in certain neighborhoods and not others.  One doesn’t have to venture too far from Downtown Atlanta to see abandoned or run down homes.  Just as in Philadelphia in the Mantua neighborhood with row houses that are abandoned and crime infested.  But it’s wonderful how a simple project can invoke so much pride in ones community.  By researching the home and giving the space an identify, the project took on a life of it’s own by restoring a culture.  I can’t help but to see the struggles of these communities after years of prosperity to become worn and torn down.  But the funeral for a home shows how sharing authority and engaging the community can assist in providing history to ones that may have either forgotten or not know about at all.  This type of event and project can be seen as a success in providing keys to get citizens in the room.  And by addressing issues or arguments that they see as relevant helps to create an environment in which people can learn and others can share knowledge.

Broxton Harvey

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Dekalb County resolution to remove Decatur monument


I found this article with an update on the Confederate Monument in Decatur. It looks like Dekalb County approved a resolution to have it removed. This seems like a complicated case of who physically “owns” history, whether it’s the city, the county or the state. I am interested to see where this goes and will continue to be watching.

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Interpretation and Conversations, or my weekend in the Hurt Building


IMG_1344.jpgWhile we’re talking about conversations, this weekend my other half and I volunteered with the Open House Atlanta event. This event had more than 30 sites from downtown to Buckhead open for visitors to experience some of the architectural gems that are in the city of Atlanta. It was a fun event, especially because we got to hang out in our neighbor the Hurt building, but it did get me thinking. This was billed as a tour event for the general public to experience types of architecture that they maybe didn’t always see. I confess to not having a lot of time to prepare but was grateful for the building manager supplying us with some key points about the building. As an afterthought and while preparing for class this week, I kind of wish I’d had a chance to develop a bit of a better experience for that building to have conversations with those who visited, but considering I developed my intro in about five minutes, I thought I was doing pretty good. To get to the point, conversations about space and interpreting that space is happening all around, and sometimes a grad student defines the conversation in five minutes, with a light cold. Here are random pictures.

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Dialogue in History

Very interesting readings this week in regards of dialogue.  I feel that creating a dialogue amongst museum goers definitely creates opportunities for people to discuss their thoughts and beliefs with a group of people that they may never have opened up to otherwise.  As the readings suggests, people can open up their minds and think of situations differently with open dialogue with people of different backgrounds.  Creating this type of forum is the direct opposite of silences in which we have discussed earlier this semester.  Museum exhibits are meant to be engaging and thought provoking.  In the dialogue process with the immigrant rights, people were able to speak freely and sometimes be able to not only voice their opinions, but to hear others and sometimes agree to disagree.  This is a new way of making an exhibit relevant in more ways than viewership, but to promote casual discussions which opens up the door for more patrons to enter.  Dialogue is yet another key to the room.

Broxton Harvey

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Funeral for a Home

My favorite reading for the week would have to be the Funeral for a Home article, in which Temple Contemporary, with the help of a public historian,  used a demolition of a house as a way of discussing historic preservation.

The video below not only shows footage of the events referenced in the article, but helps connect the article with some of the discussions we’ve been having in class.

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Avondale Estates: A Local Museum

The experience of speaking with community members and handing out surveys last Saturday at Avondale Estate’s Art Walk really made me reflect on the particular ways in which local museums operate as discussed by Amy K. Levin in “Defining Memory.”  While Avondale Estates is not a museum per se, it is a community with a shared identity and a collective past.  If a museum is an institution that is 1) open to the public and 2) has tangible or intangible culture in the form of collections that they 3) put on display for educational consumption, then I would argue that Avondale Estates could be considered a small-scale museum!

Regardless, I found that community members that had lived in Avondale Estates for an extended period of time and/or had a strong investment in the community (e.g. local business owners, civic roles in municipal government, etc.) often had a strong sense of nostalgia – a sort of idealized way Avondale Estates had been in the past.  Often, these individuals had not personally experienced the historic memories of Avondale Estates that they were reflecting on, but rather had co-opted stories and past events that they had heard from other community members.  These prosthetic memories would often shape the history and features of Avondale Estates that they were most interested in seeing in a future Interpretive Plan.  In contrast, community members that had recently moved to Avondale Estates were occasionally excited about historic aspects of the community, but were more frequently focused on how their city could change, grow, and evolve in the near future.  This dynamic represents the changing publics of Avondale Estates and it seems like the best way to approach the various dichotomies that emerge in various community members’ interests and objectives would be to approach our Interpretive Plan as if we were working with a local museum.  Extrapolating from this approach, one great way that small museums address changing publics is to highlight an important event or public place within the community’s recent past and create a multivalent, multivocal way of understanding that event or place that all community members can relate to.  This seems to be a good way of provoking new ways of thinking while having an element of familiarity that relates positively to everyone.  Any thoughts or ideas?

Posted in Book review, community based history, Interpretive issues, Museums, Preservation, Reviews | 1 Comment