Last Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo inaugurated the Adirondack Challenge as an upstate tourist initiative. The Indian River rafting challenge was issued to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who, according to news reports, is more familiar with yachts than inflatable rafts. The State defeated the City by 18 seconds in the three mile race. A wet and good time was had by all.
Governor Cuomo’s love for upstate (in particular the Adirondacks, not, say Syracuse), is well known. According to the New York Times a year before the Path through History roll-out, the Governor “has conspicuously avoided leaving the state” save for driving on the Palisades Interstate Parkway when headed north from the city. As Cuomo put it: “You can have the best vacation of your life right here in the state of New York. I see no reason to go anywhere else. It’s my state and I’m sticking to it.”
Right below the article on the Adirondack Challenge, was the article “In a Museum or on TV, Objects that Tell a Story.” What’s relevant here is not the 50 objects on the Civil War, but the person who made the final decision on what was to be exhibited – Harold Holzer, Lincoln scholar, among other things. He had been an assistant to Governor Mario Cuomo, and is currently on the executive board of the Path through History project. Holzer spoke at the August 2012 kick-off meeting, but we haven’t heard much from him over the past year on the Path project, or for that matter, from Ken Jackson who gave the plenary address, or from the other members of the executive board. Or from Lisa Keller who chaired the Hudson Valley region session which I attended.
For all practical purposes, these people appear to be out of the loop. As best I can determine from the public actions of which I am aware, it’s just as if the Executive Board doesn’t exist anymore and their pictures in the slick glossy booklet we received was a sham.
I mention this because the stakes are high. There are consequences to the shortcomings of the Path project that affect all the communities of the state, not just upstate, consequences that the Governor knows, but hasn’t responded to with his fixation on tourism.
“The Death of a Museum” tells the tale of the true stakes. The article mainly is about the demise of the Fresno Met in California. It mentions the similar dire straits of the Detroit Institute of Arts (in the city of ruin tourism) and the South Street Seaport (ruined in part by Sandy). It also might have mentioned Historic Cherry Hill, near the Executive Mansion in Albany, and on the brink of death just days ago before being rescued by an outpouring of donations. These critical lines in the article should give pause as to what really needs to be done to support the history community in New York: “Museums don’t often go out of business. They cut back, they pare down, but they tend to persevere as cultural anchors of their communities” (emphasis added).
CULTURAL ANCHORS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES, not tourist destination points. The cultural anchors of the kinds of communities Andrew Cuomo likes to visit and promote. And these cultural anchors need help to survive.
They need help to survive physically.
They need help to survive financially.
They need help to survive with a local history curriculum.
They need help to survive with community heritage events.
They need help to survive.
Instead of funding the history infrastructure which is needed to anchor communities and support tourism, the state’s funding is going to new highway signs, a website, and advertising agencies.
Good thing the history community isn’t organized, because if it were Cuomo would get an earful.
Photo: This photograph, taken by a Times Union reporter, memorializes the day Governor Andrew Cuomo rolled-out the Path Through History program in front of signage highlighting history related sites Albany.