As reported in my previous post on lobbying in Albany, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Ken Adams, President and CEO Empire State Development and Commissioner of New York State Department of Economic Development. This includes ILoveNY and the Path through history.
That chat led to an email, written March 5th, which is posted below. He has not responded.
It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday at the Tourism Action Day and having a chance to chat about tourism and the history community. You asked me what I would do to rescue the Path through History project if I had the chance and I would like to take this opportunity to list some points for consideration.
1. New York History – You should write a column for The New York History Blog on the role of the Regional Economic Development Councils. It was mentioned that 62 tourist-related applications were accepted in Round Three and surely some of them were history-based. If in your post you could use them as examples of what can be done, that would be useful.
2. Solomon Northup – Following the awards for the movie, I was contacted by the Albany press about what Saratoga would do to capitalize on the event. I gave the reporter some names to contact since there already has been a Solomon Northup Day for about 15 years. In a previous post on the Civil War, I recommended that Governor Cuomo initiate a Civil War Tourist Exchange program with southern states. We would visit the battlefield sites where New Yorkers fought and they would visit the home communities here. I was thinking in particular of Columbia County which fought in Louisiana, the same place where Northup was held. This is a publicity opportunity for upstate New York that should not be missed. The time to act is now.
3. Albany Paths through History – Create two Albany paths, one based on Albany as the state capital and one based on Albany as a 400-year-old settlement. Set an example for other communities on the creation of paths. Attached as an example is a Teacherhostel/Historyhostel I created in the Capital Region.
4. Tourism Jobs and Taxes – Separate the figures for cultural heritage tourism from business travel, conferences, sports events, college visits, shopping at Macy’s and Woodbury Commons, and truck stop layovers. History tourist sites are hurting for attendance so when you bandy about these huge statewide numbers you mock the history sites because they know the people are not coming on vacations to see them. Yes, if you are in Lake George you will at some point visit Fort William Henry but compare its visitors to Fort Ticonderoga. And no matter how many times people from around the world attend the US Open, they don’t visit a single historic site in Queens. Only the parking concession makes any money, all the rest in spent in Manhattan. If you don’t have a breakdown for the cultural heritage tourist figures then don’t mention the totals which are meaningless to the history sites.
5. Stop taking credit in the Path Program for things the Governor didn’t do. He no more is responsible for the events for on the Path weekend than he is for Yankee attendance then. Just because events are listed on a website doesn’t mean the State in any way shape or form caused them to happen. When the Governor takes credit for things he didn’t do, he undermines the credibility of the project. I think it comes more from ignorance than dishonesty. Only someone ignorant of the facts on the ground could think the state was responsible for historic organizations doing what they normally do but on that weekend. Stop taking credit for it. Celebrate the history community but don’t act as if you contributed to it when you didn’t.
6. Path Executive Board – Whatever happened to it? Besides trotting them out for the dog-and-pony show in 2012, what has it done? Based on emails I have received, apparently nothing. How come Tourism has an advisory board and history doesn’t?
7. Path Resources – Even as the project was gearing up, one member of the Executive Board told me that the project didn’t have the resources to work. I am excluding signs and the website and referring to actually making paths happen. Ask the acting deputy director. Why isn’t there a real director? In an earlier post, I recommended that if the Governor was serious he should use the $1,000,000 he pledged to the Path project to hire one person for each of the then-ten regions and have them work to make paths happen.
8. The history community infrastructure – The primary focus of history organizations is to stay alive so they can serve their community. They do not have the staff or time to do the planning and organizing required for the collaborative effort needed to create a path. As one who has created day, weekend, and weeklong Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, I speak from experience on what is involved. Many sites would have a problem if busloads of people showed up – they might not even be open! But that’s not a problem because the Path through History project is not in a position to give bus tour operators path itineraries because they haven’t been created. If a travel writer did want to understand New York assets by visiting the historic sites and contacted you what itinerary would you give the writer for any region on any theme?
The communities of New York have authentic stories to tell and experiences to provide. They do not have the infrastructure or support to tell them jointly. Where is the funding for collaboration and planning? Where are the resources?
New York disrespects its own history. At the state level it has had little to no interest in the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War, the bi-centennial of the war of 1812, or the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. And once the quadricentennial of the Hudson passed you would think the Hudson River no longer had any historic importance or tourist potential except maybe to walk over. And speaking of New York, this is the 350th anniversary of when it became New York and not New Amsterdam.
Many states celebrate their own history. We do not.
Where is the place for local and state history in the Common Core?
Where are the field trips to historical places in the K12 curriculum?
What do you need to know about New York State history to become certified as a history teacher?
Where is the Teaching New York History for professional development like the Teaching American History grants on the federal level?
While these are matters for the Education Department which also charters historic museums, they reflect an atmosphere that diminishes the standing of the history of the state and contributes to poor attendance at many sites.
So in response to your question about what I think needs to be done, here are the agenda items to fulfill the potential of the Path through History project..
Thank you for your time.
Note: Ken Adams did not use the word “rescue.” I do not recall his exact words beyond “What would you do?”