by Gretchen Buggeln, VAF President
Political events of the last few months have opened up numerous opportunities for me to talk with friends, neighbors, and strangers about the importance of the historic built environment and the place of the humanities in American cultural life. It is striking how little the typical American knows about the dearth of public funding for the arts, for example, or the economic value of historic preservation, or the social benefits of local history. It is also illuminating that they’ve thought so little about the economic and practical realities of programs they enjoy and intuitively recognize as important.
More than any of the humanities organizations I call home, the VAF gives me the tools to sound convincing in these conversations. That is because, as a group, we know how to connect our work with the good of communities. We have a mission to make our work accessible, whether in the field or in print.
I know that when we gather in Salt Lake City in late May, I will appreciate the bucking up of peers who face the same professional challenges I face. I’ll be intellectually renewed and energized by emerging scholarship. I’ll delight in great conversations on bus tours and over fun meals. Knowledgeable guides will present fantastic buildings. I’ll meet new friends, and be amazed at the skills and ideas of graduate students and young professionals. This year, some of us will tour the Sanpete Valley with Tom Carter, who knows those historic Mormon communities like the back of his hand, and has already taught us so much about them in his book Building Zion. Those choosing the Thursday Park City tour will experience one of the most fascinating aspects of the western landscape: how old mining towns are transformed into mountain resorts. We will see this process up close and personal, as one industry replaces another, with snow rather than silver the exploited resource. On Friday, we’ll be exploring the capital of Utah and Great Basin metropolis, Salt Lake City itself.
Our conference is an opportunity to experience a place that reflects both the hope and ingenuity, and also the turmoil, of the American West, while epitomizing the peculiarly American interweaving of religion and place. Tom and his team have a fantastic program planned for us, from the Wednesday opening reception to the final banquet. And, as always at VAF conferences, there will be great music, food and local beverages. Please take a look at the conference schedule online, and make plans to come to Utah! Hope to see you there.