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Saving a Historical Treasure: the Portland Zoo Railway

May 22, 2020

By: Dana Carstensen, President of Friends of Washington Park and Zoo Railway

There aren’t many opportunities where older generations can both relive and pass on a magical experience to a new generation.  In these times of great divide and unknown, being able to have a moment of bonding, nostalgia, and a sense of pride that you’ve created a positive lifelong childhood memory should not only be cherished but protected.  The Washington Park and Zoo Railway is one such treasure. 

As a “temp” worker at the Oregon Zoo, I’d come back every season as the conductor of the WP&ZRy because being the “Stationmaster” brought me joy.  Parents and grandparents were reliving their childhood as children all around burst with excitement to board the train that took them through a magical forest.  When the route was first shut down, I saw firsthand how much sadness and disappointment it brought our community.

I decided to get involved when I found out that there were funding issues between the governing entities and that plans were being made to turn it into a walking path. This regional treasure since 1958 was in danger, and I had to do something.

At first, I started an online petition, which caught the passion of tens of thousands. That led to passionate public testimonies given to the City of Portland Commissioners. Once impassioned, the Portland Commissioners put a stay on the plan until a transportation study relating to the WP&ZRy within the park was done. Next we started a 501c(3) nonprofit called the Friends of Washington Park and Zoo Railway. We successfully listed the Portland Zoo Railway Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. We felt this regional treasure deserved recognition in a national program as a way to honor and commemorate the importance of the Zoo Railway. This way, future generations could learn about the history and significance of the WP&ZRy.

Additionally, we got the Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to ask Oregon Metro to include repair costs, which they themselves estimated around $5 million in their $7 billion transportation bond measure. We found, helped copyright, and licensed the unpublished manuscript, “Miles of Smiles – Washington Park and Zoo Railroad – A Triumph of Soot, Noise and Laughter” by Edward M. Miller, otherwise known as the, “Father of the WP&ZRy.”    

If a temp can get this far, think of what you can do to save a historical treasure in your own community.

Heritage Traditions Find Opportunities in a Non-traditional Decision

May 7, 2020

By: Kyle Jansson, Oregon Heritage Commission coordinator from 2002-2016

Oregon’s Heritage Traditions are making a non-traditional decision this year – whether to cancel the event because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a decision with risks and with opportunities.

The risks are many: health scientists are not completely certain how this new Covid is transmitted. The ease with which it spreads has prompted shutdowns worldwide, with many to be fully in place through May. Even if the pandemic slows during the next month, health professionals expect there will be additional waves of it for the next couple of years, much like the 1918-1919 flu pandemic.

A vaccine may be developed in 18 months, and then it will take months and maybe even years to produce enough for everyone who wants it. A Seton Hall University study released this month found 72 percent of people would not feel comfortable attending sporting events until a vaccine is developed.

The New York Times reported recently that cities that went all in on social distancing in 1918 emerged stronger for it. Oregon Heritage Traditions not taking place this year, such as the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Astoria and the Pear Blossom Festival in Medford, are helping their communities do the same during this pandemic. Traditions by definition attract large groups and tourists. Not having an event this year reduces the number of people bringing Covid to your community.

A number of Traditions, including the Oregon State Fair, the Bend Pet Parade, the Portland Rose Festival, and the Pendleton Roundup, have a history of canceling their events during a war or major crisis. This year, even the Summer Olympics has been postponed for a year.

So what opportunities does this create for Oregon Heritage Traditions that decide to wait until 2021 to return? Let’s consider one event outside of Oregon – an ice cream social – that decided that its organizers would not take place this year. Event organizers could:

  • Sell certificates for $25 enabling people to get a free ice cream cone at the 2021 social. The social’s supporters may still want to contribute financially this year and this gives them a fun way to do that. Organizers could use the proceeds for planning and marketing next year’s events, or give a portion of them to one of the nonprofits helping people affected by Covid.
  • Reinforce its mission to the community by sharing how it contributes most years through support for nonprofits, scholarships, and other resources.
  • Update policies, consider format changes and make a much-needed reorganization.
  • Send previous sponsors – businesses that could be struggling – a thank you and an update on what plans are for the next year. It could post both to social media and its website.
  • Refurbish equipment.
  • Host some sort of virtual ice cream social this year with solo musicians, ice cream eating contests, or some other.

The decision to cancel an Oregon Heritage Tradition is not a tradition that you want to continue. But this year, it seems like the best choice.

The Oregon Heritage Commission has designated 24 events as Oregon Heritage Traditions. For a complete list, visit our website.

Disaster Preparation in the Middle of a Disaster

May 1, 2020

Since we are living it, we are taking a moment today to look at resilience and recovery. No matter the current situation, historic places and collections will play a critical role in recovery.

In 2018, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and The World Bank jointly published the position paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery. The proposed CURE Framework emphasizes the need to integrate people-centered and place-based strategies and policies with culture as the foundation in order to achieve sustainable change.

“From cultural heritage to cultural and creative industries, from sustainable tourism to cultural institutions, culture enables and drives the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainable development. It is a crucial factor for social cohesion and poverty alleviation and supports issues such as education, urban development and gender equality to enable the full achievement of development outcomes. It has become clear that culture can no longer be a dividend of development, but is rather a prerequisite to its achievement” (pg 17).

Integrating culture into all phases of recovery from planning to implementation strengthens the community’s sense of belonging and livability of the environment. Broad inclusion of culture of the entire community can strengthen community ownership and address long standing inequities. The scope of the framework encompasses the entire city, not just the historic areas, so that all aspects of the city’s culture can be incorporated.

The following principles apply to cities and towns of all sizes using the CURE Framework.

Principle 1. Acknowledging the city as a “cultural construct” where built structures and open spaces are closely linked to the social fabric.

Principle 2. Starting the reconciliation process with the (re)construction of cultural landmarks and places of significance to local communities.

Principle 3. Fostering cultural expressions to offer appropriate ways to deal with post-crisis trauma and reconcile affected communities.

Principle 4. Prioritizing culture early in the planning process, starting with needs assessments and the implementation of emergency interventions that reflect community priorities.

Principle 5. Engaging communities and local governments in every step of the recovery process.

Principle 6. Using finance models that balance immediate/short-term needs with the medium/long-term development time frame of reconstruction plans.

Principle 7. Ensuring effective management of the reconstruction process by striking a balance between people’s needs and the recovery of a city’s historic character.

This approach requires raising awareness of the value of culture and encouraging the integration of cultural heritage, creativity, and diversity of cultural expressions into disaster resiliency strategies. Heritage plays a powerful role in identity and dignity through a community’s landmarks, historic collections, and intangible heritage.  

Oregon’s historic properties and downtowns and heritage organizations are necessary for full people-centered crisis recovery in every community. They should be included in all needs assessments, recovery strategy and policy planning, funding, and implementation for this and future recovery efforts.

Focus on Your Value!

April 27, 2020

By Kuri Gill, Oregon Heritage Outreach & Grants Coordinator

Today, we would have been headed home for the Oregon Heritage Conference: Harness the Power of Heritage. We would have met amazing people, been inspired by keynote speakers and excellence award winners, learned best practices, collected tips and maybe a bit of swag, and had a stack of notes. Typically, we leave a conference with all of this great information and we wonder where to begin.

Today in the face of uncertainty, you might also feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin.

Harness the Power of Heritage was our theme for a reason. When used responsibly, heritage can provide perspective about a situation, it can include untold stories, it can support frazzled parents and teachers, it can comfort, it can document the real story, it can reflect, it can honor, it can develop a special sense of place, and it can anchor and connect a community.

Three months ago, your mission, your power, was to do this important heritage work for Oregon’s communities. Today, this power is needed more than ever. It will be needed as we transition to a new way of living. It will be needed when we are past this entirely and looking back at it. Even in the face of essential, social, economic needs, your services are needed. This is where to begin and end. As you make your decisions about caring for your staff and volunteers, engaging your stakeholders, managing your resources, providing services, and reopening your doors, keep your value and mission in mind.

Once you internalize that…it is time to tell others!

Make sure you share your value with all of your stakeholders. Stay in the forefront of the minds of elected officials, donors, members, volunteers, tourism organizations, sponsors, and foundations. Here are two tools to help you develop your messages.

  1. Value of Heritage toolkit Look for value information and a story building process here!
  2. Value of History Statement, which is a national effort to provide a common language to help history organizations describe the value and relevance of their work. The Oregon Heritage Commission recently endorsed this statement.

Flax and the Oregon Landscape

April 21, 2020

Each year, Oregon Heritage highlights outstanding research done by students at Oregon universities through the Oregon Heritage Fellowship program. This year, three fellows were selected for their thoughtful inquiry of Oregon’s past. Enjoy a preview of original research here. Final papers will be published on the Oregon Heritage Fellowship web page in June.

By: Georgia Reid, 2020 Oregon Heritage Fellow, Undergraduate Student in Anthropology and Sociology at Lewis & Clark College

Just south of Canby stands what’s left of one of the last operational fiber-flax processing mills in Oregon, built in 1936. Rumor has it that it was the last to close its operations in 1962, though I still haven’t found any definitive records or evidence that say so. To my total surprise, when I visited to peer through the windows, late in 2019, fiber was still strung through the machines—sixty-year old threads weaving past and present in the old mill building.

Like those threads, fiber-flax has maintained a peculiar presence even through its absence in the Willamette Valley. Going back to its ancestral roots and traditions in the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and Europe, the domesticated flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) has held something of a fairy tale quality.

Between 1865 and 1962, Oregon gained a reputation for growing high-quality fiber plants, causing what newspapers called “flax fever” to spread through the valley. A few prominent women with wealth and political ties especially propelled the industry’s development: they petitioned government sponsorship at multiple key junctures. This government funding was the only support to consistently keep the fiber-flax industry afloat throughout the decades. Fiber-flax, a labor-intensive crop at the time, was almost never profitable. Still, float parades, theatrical performances and dances were held in the streets of Salem, celebrating flax. Children dressed up as flax angels, women were crowned flax queens, and a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of Mount Angel was even crowned “Father of Flax”.

Woman posing while operating beaming machine, preparing warp yarn for the loom, circa early 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland Public Schools Collection

Trailing post-World War II industry collapse, multiple attempts at reviving commercial flax-to-linen production in Oregon and throughout North America have occurred since the mid-1990s. My research goal was to document and interpret this contemporary history.

I never expected to end up telling a ghost story—the sort of tale, we all know, where the reality of what’s present is thickly filled, even haunted, by the past. Social theorist Avery Gordon writes that a ghost “is often a case of inarticulate experiences…a case of modernity’s violence and wounds, and a case of the haunting reminder of the complex social relations in which we live” (Gordon 1997, 25). 

Flax straw, circa early 1930s, at a processing mill. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland Public Schools Collection

What Gordon means is that ghosts and haunting show where there is overlap between times, and especially where there is emotional overlap—where grief, hope, longing, remembrance thread past with present. The efforts to re-establish a regional economy of flax-to-linen production register a longing for the past to inform the future of fiber and clothing manufacturing as slightly less synthetic, globalized, and polluting of ecological relations.

As much as it has been my job to offer critique, something of the swaying fields of blue flax has captivated my imagination and my heart. How could we weave the best of the past into our lives today?

Policing in Progressive Era Portland

April 21, 2020

Each year, Oregon Heritage highlights outstanding research done by students at Oregon universities through the Oregon Heritage Fellowship program. This year, three fellows were selected for their thoughtful inquiry of Oregon’s past. Enjoy a preview of original research here. Final papers will be published on the Oregon Heritage Fellowship web page in June.

By: Katie Bush, 2020 Oregon Heritage Fellow, Graduate Student in Public History at PSU

Upon entering graduate school two years ago and embarking on my thesis project about health, contagion, and policing in Progressive era Portland, Oregon, I was keenly aware of the connections to contemporary issues such as the policing of houseless communities, the ascription of “criminality” on to the mentally ill and impoverished, and the othering of marginalized communities as inherently “unhealthy.” With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the implications of my research took on new significance.

Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The virus spread quickly throughout the world, spurred by our deeply interconnected, global society. The virus was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. [1] By March 27, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned of the possibility of increased hate crimes perpetrated against Asian Americans. [2] Rhetoric used by President Donald Trump, various political leaders, and media outlets discursively linking the virus with China and Wuhan is rife with racism and a misappropriation of medicalized language in an effort to diffuse blame. Unfortunately, this type of scapegoating is not new. The ascription of disease and unhygienic practices onto a specific group is a strategic use of power.

Beginning in 1851, the year Portland was incorporated, Chinese people arrived in the city. By 1870, Multnomah County was home to 496 residents of Chinese descent, making it the largest ethnic group of the 11,510 residents in the county. [3] White Oregonians used language about health, contagious disease, and sanitation to denigrate immigrants of Asian descent and Asian Americans, and to advocate for strict immigration restrictions. We see these linkages in the Quarantine Act in 1870, Portland’s 1873 Cubic Air Ordinance, and the sanitation campaigns directed at the city’s Chinatown in the 1890s. These reactions illustrate the racialized and nativist fear of foreign bodies that pervaded medical, political, and law enforcement ideologies in the nineteenth century.

This 1908 Morning Oregonian headline illustrates how effective health and sanitation ordinances were at targeting immigrant communities. January 27, 1908.

In response to disease outbreaks in San Francisco, the Oregon Legislature passed the Quarantine Act in 1870. Fearing the importation of disease and unhygienic conditions, foreign ships arriving in Astoria and Coos Bay were quarantined. [4] Although the law does not include specific mention of foreign nations, House minutes included references to diseased vessels originating from China. [5] While Portland did experience outbreaks of contagious diseases like smallpox during this period, the Quarantine Act posited that the threat of contagion existed solely from outside of the borders of the United States.

In 1873, Portland’s city council passed a Cubic Air ordinance, which was meant to ensure healthy living quarters for all residents. However, a Morning Oregonian article from June 28, 1873 explicitly stated that the ordinance was meant to target “the Chinese of this city.” In detailing the extensive raids made on buildings in Chinatown, the author describes the apartments as “…low, dirty, and unhealthy.” [6] As a result of the raids, 53 residents of Chinese descent were arrested and fined. [7] Again, unsanitary conditions were deliberately and strategically linked with Portland’s Chinese population.

In an 1890 Morning Oregonian editorial, the author used racilized language that furthered conceptualizations of Chinese citizens as “unsanitary,” and dangerous to the health of the city. August 23, 1890.

In 1898, the City Health Department focused their attention on the passage of sanitation reforms. Again, the implementation of these reforms largely focused on Chinatown. Stories of unhealthy residences, unsanitary sewage disposal, and residents of Chinese descent using human feces to fertilize gardens swirled throughout the city. [8] This kind of anecdotal evidence bolstered assumed unhygienic behaviors and notions of difference, which justified recently passed nationwide laws restricting immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Geary Act in 1892 targeted working class Chinese immigrants, and those already residing within the United States. [9] In spite of oppressive actions and corrosive prejudices, Portlanders of Chinese descent established a vibrant community that continued to grow into the 1900s. [10]

These few examples of the rhetoric used to denigrate Asian Americans in late nineteenth century Portland are by no means exhaustive. Through the use of medicalized language and the specter of “hygiene,” Asian immigrants and Asian Americans were effectively linked with contagion, disease, and filth. In the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the rhetoric employed by politicians and media figures illustrates a similar fear and antagonism towards immigrants, and the racialized and marginalized “Other.” By historically contextualizing this kind of rhetoric, we are able to see how the strategic deployment of medicalized language can highlight and heighten power imbalances.


[1] “Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (Covid-19),” World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen. [2] Josh Margolin, “FBI warns of potential surge in crimes against Asian Americans amid coronavirus,” ABCNews, https://abcnews.go.com/US/fbi-warns-potential-surge-hate-crimes-asian-americans/story?id=69831920. [3] Sarah Marie Griffith, “The Courts and the Making of a Chinese Immigrant Community in Portland,” (Portland State University, 2003), 16. United States Census Bureau, Ninth Census- Volume 1. The Statistics of the Population of the United States,” (Washington, D.C., 1871), 57. [4] Jack Smolensky, “A History of Public Health in Oregon,” (University of Oregon, 1957), 164. [5] “The Oregon Legislature— Sixth Biennial Session— Afternoon Session,” Morning Oregonian, October 22, 1870. [6] “The Cubic Air Ordinance,” Morning Oregonian, June 28, 1873. [7] “Changing Quarters,” Morning Oregonian, June 30, 1873. [8] Smolensky, 117. [9] Griffith, 31. [10] Marie Rose Wong, Sweet Cakes Long Journey: The Chinatowns of Portland, Oregon, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), 267.

Battle Rock: Anatomy of a Massacre

April 21, 2020

Each year, Oregon Heritage highlights outstanding research done by students at Oregon universities through the Oregon Heritage Fellowship program. This year, three fellows were selected for their thoughtful inquiry of Oregon’s past. Enjoy a preview of original research here. Final papers will be published on the Oregon Heritage Fellowship web page in June.

By: Adam Fitzhugh, 2020 Oregon Heritage Fellow, Graduate Student in History at PSU

“Battle Rock” was an 1851 massacre of Quatomah Indians by nine Euro-American men attempting to establish a settlement at present day Port Orford, Oregon. I came across the story just prior to beginning graduate school at Portland State. My historical area of interest had been classical antiquity. However, for practical reasons, I decided that my master’s degree would be in American history, with an emphasis on the antebellum West. For me, the study of the past had always been about distant places thousands of years ago, and I wanted to explore something more tangible and immediate. The ability to walk down the street and work directly with primary sources from the Oregon Historical Society was an appealing prospect, and so I decided to write my thesis on a regional subject.  

Since my knowledge of Oregon history was limited, I thought it would be best to focus on a single event. This would not only provide my research with natural parameters, but would also allow me to write a microhistory, which is an approach I find appealing. With this in mind, I checked out a few books on the so-called “Indian Wars” that took place in the Northwest during the latter half of the nineteenth century. One of these was A Chronological History of the Oregon War: 1850 to 1878 by J.L. Smith. As the title suggests, it listed all of the “battles” that had occurred between settlers and indigenous peoples in the region, and one of these was Battle Rock. As soon as I read the description, I knew this was the event I wanted to research.

The way in which the traditional accounts had painted Battle Rock in a highly-romanticized, consequential light was intriguing to me. Although a minor incident in the scope of Oregon history, it has been depicted as a larger-than-life foundational tale—a last stand of brave, white “defenders” repulsing a horde of savage “Rogue” Indians. To me, the story of the event is more interesting than the event itself. How and why history is constructed, particularly in the sense of propaganda, fascinates me. I see the story of Battle Rock as an artifact from a time when Port Orford was thought to be the next important place on the Pacific coast. With that said, it was a very real event in which twenty Quatomah Indians were brutally killed, and a central focus of my research has been an attempt to unveil what happened on that terrible June day. While the story of Battle Rock might be an artifact of unmet potential its postcolonial reality is ongoing, and to this day the Port Orford community and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz are still debating its legacy.

Volunteer Appreciation During COVID-19

April 17, 2020

By: Dirk J. Siedlecki, President – Friends of Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery

The world as we knew it has been turned upside down by this dreadful virus. Not only has it changed our personal lives, it has also impacted the volunteer activities that are an important part of who we are.

Having already canceled several events that were scheduled for April and May, our Board is now looking at how best to proceed with the remainder of the year. It is not easy to cancel events knowing the time and effort volunteers have put into research and preparation. However, their safety and well-being is far more important at the moment. Considering that the majority of the volunteers who help care for our Historic Cemeteries tend to be our senior population, as are the people who attend our events and activities, making these precautions all the more necessary.

As I have been discussing with my volunteers, nothing will go to waste. If we don’t get to use it this year, there is always next year. They have been very understanding and supportive. What they miss the most is getting together and working as a team, something I certainly miss as well. In the meantime, phone calls and emails are keeping us in touch with one another.

Since we are dealing with so many unknowns at this time, it is important to let volunteers know what is going on as quickly as possible. Most of our programs such as History Saturday in the Cemetery, group tours, and our annual October Meet the Pioneers program, draw large groups of people and make social distancing impossible.

Rather than focusing on what we won’t be able to do, we are looking ahead at those things that we can control to keep our volunteers busy and involved. Once we receive word from Governor Brown that we can start to venture out again, we will start to schedule volunteer activities such as mini community clean-up days where we can direct smaller groups to work in designated areas while keeping volunteers at a safe distance. The same is true for our Marker Cleaning Workshops. Restoration projects currently on hold will resume as well.

Redirecting volunteer activities from tours and programs to things like grounds clean-up, refinishing cemetery benches, and repainting the interior of the Interpretive Center will not only keep volunteers busy and involved, it will get a number of things off the “To Do” list.

Ideas for Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 20-24) when you can’t do it in person:

  • Write and mail a thank you letter.
    • Add a gift:
      • Lifesavers – “You are a lifesaver!”
      • Mints – “You mean a mint to us!”
      • Chocolate Coins – “Your work is solid gold!”
      • Gummy Bears – “We can’t bear to be without you!”
      • Coffee Packet – “You keep us going! You keep it perky!”
      • Fortune Cookie – “You are our good fortune!”
  • Drive by and hang a sign at their house.
  • Share your thanks with the world. Total your organization’s volunteer hours for the past year. Also, where appropriate, and with permission, list individual accomplishments through:
    • Newsletter announcements
    • Social media posts
    • A letter to the editor of your local paper
    • A big thank you sign in the window
  • Host an awards program (from a distance!)
    • Mail the awards
    • Feature individual stories in newsletters and on social media
    • Hold an on-line ceremony- in formal wear to make it fancy!

A New and Improved Home

April 9, 2020

By: Tara Puyat, Collections Manager, Lane County Historical Museum 

As it is for many small museums, when the building that houses the Lane County History Museum was built, artifact storage was not a consideration. Since then, it has been a story of making do with what is available. When I started at LCHM four years ago, one particular area struck me as needing extra attention: a storage vault full of fragile artifacts that were not housed in boxes and were placed on less-than-sturdy wooden shelving. Thus was born my Vault Renovation Project, which came to fruition with the help of an Oregon Heritage, Oregon Museum Grant.

When I started this project with a dedicated team of volunteers back in August 2019, it was a daunting task which we were not entirely sure would go as planned. And as things normally do, we needed to deviate, which caused minor setbacks. For example, temporary storage has been tight because I found it was more beneficial to pull all artifacts out of the storage space before re-boxing them so that I could see all the area contents and plan storage allotments better. But here we are, a little over six months later and over a month ahead of schedule: the inventory is almost complete and storage furniture has been fully replaced. My volunteers have commented that they never thought that we would reach this point, but we did.

That said, there is still a lot to be done. Now that the storage space renovation is complete, the work of returning several thousand objects to their respectively assigned spots begins. Still, the stress and worry of running out of temporary space has been lifted and though we reached the brink of critical mass, we survived.

What have I learned from this process?

  1. Be flexible: You can plan a project to the minute, but something will inevitably change. The key is to prepare for eventualities as best as you can, and don’t let surprises throw you.
  2. Trust your abilities: Large projects can be daunting and overwhelming but if you have the necessary skills, it will all get done as long as you consistently chip away at the work. Don’t panic, take a deep breath when you need to.
  3. Trust your team: you cannot do everything by yourself and sometimes you have to trust that parts of the project can be done by other people. I would never have been able to tackle this without volunteers and contractors (for the furniture renovation). My volunteers confidently carried out things that I trained them to do, such as inventory and cataloguing, which freed up my time to face tasks that only I can do, such as conservation cleaning.

Let me say that I am grateful to have been given the chance to undertake this project. Conceiving it, planning it, and now managing it, has been a steep learning curve, but thankfully it has also given me the ability to more fully utilize my skill set. There is still a significant chunk of work to be finished, but the end is now in sight. I have a little over two months to complete the project within the grant period and it feels attainable. The satisfaction of a job-almost-done is priceless. But let me not get ahead of myself. At the end of it, I can take pride in knowing that because of our work, a little slice of my museum’s collection is much better off.

Addendum: Much has changed since I originally wrote this post on March 11. Due to current circumstances, Lane County History Museum has had to shutter its doors and the status of all staff is under discussion. As a result this project is on hold for an indefinite period. In the meantime, efforts are being made to store all exposed artifacts securely and safely until such time that regular work resumes. Best wishes to all of you out there. May you and yours stay safe and well!

Breathe, Exhale, Strategize

March 27, 2020

…and resist the temptation to go whole hog in a new direction that requires new resources.

This was a much-needed message shared on Wednesday’s webinar “How to Captivate, Connect, and Communicate with Your Audience During Coronavirus” hosted by Cuseum.

COVID-19 is hitting the cultural heritage world hard. We’ve heard from many heritage organizations in Oregon that they have already had to reduce staffing and/or completely put operations on hold. If you feel the past two weeks have been confusing and hard, you’re not alone. In addition to figuring out how to keep the people in our lives safe, cultural heritage organizations are also receiving rapid-fire emails with resources on how to keep their operations afloat. It’s hard to keep up, make sense of things, and know where to focus.

If your organization is fortunate enough to have the reserve to keep staff and volunteers engaged, or if you have had to make tough staffing decisions for the long-term health of the organization, this message is for you: —“Be easy on yourself. It’s only been two weeks.”

Wonder what your heritage organization should be doing now, whether you’ve had staff changes or not? The following advice is sourced from the “How to Captivate, Connect, Communicate” webinar:

  • If it doesn’t seem obvious, don’t worry about it. Right now, you’re probably still in the reaction phase to the COVID-19 crisis. Take care of your people and do what’s absolutely needed first. If you don’t know what to do, it’s likely those unknowns aren’t that important.  
  • Don’t overstretch limited resources. Lean on what you have and bring it forward. If you have online collections, or an education project that was already in the works and can be made digital– great. If not, now is probably not the time to launch a brand-new online education program or digital interface. Look at this downtime as an opportunity for your organization to step back and strengthen your core programs.
  • Return to your mission to prioritize work. Let your mission drive the programming and staffing decisions you make now and always. No organization with collections is ever done with collections care. Is there a scanning project that got put on hold a while ago? Can front desk volunteers assist a project that never got finished?
  • Building community within an organization takes effort. There may be a tendency right now to focus all your energy on public facing programs. The public can’t come to you, and you feel you have to get to them ASAP. But remember, with staff and volunteers now physically spread-out and working from home, it takes additional effort to keep everyone focused, communicate well, and keep your organizational culture alive. Because… 
  • Reopening, when the time comes, will take effort. Things will eventually return to a new normal. What needs to be in place so your organization is ready?

Oregon Heritage staff has been fielding resources fast and furiously the past couple of weeks. We have created a COVID-19 Resource page on our website to help consolidate these resources in one place. Please, be easy on yourselves right now. We’re all navigating this together.