Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Over lunch I digest not just my Casa Maya sandwich, but comments made at the inaugural meeting of the Federal 450th commission meeting.  We've had a lot, a lot, I mean A LOT of first meetings for the 450th, but nothing like this.  First there was the 450th Corps (still have the bumper sticker on our car!), then there was the City commission that (as I understand it) due to financial disclosure requirements morphed into the private First America Foundation.  The later institution folded last month with the stepping down of the chair and several other board members (see St. Augustine Record article).  You'd think this morning I woke up and went to work jaded about 450th business.  And you'd be right.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.
Yet, I write renewed, ready to participate and partner for a fantastic 450th.  What brought on the renewed momentum?  Could it have been the simple standing for the pledge of allegiance?  Secretary of State Ken Browning, the most over-qualified pledge leader I've witnessed in my life so far, snapped me back to every moment in every classroom that I've ever said the pledge.  I first felt defiant like a 4th grader mumbling, but the act served as a reminder that we are at work for the Nation today.

Could the renewal have come from Ken Salazar, the US Secretary of the Interior, standing on the Flagler College stage and affirming our town as a National "jewel." Keep in mind non-archies, for my entire professional career everything I've done and said has been in service one way or another to his office.  Everything written and investigated is done to Secretary of Interior standards.  And because I meet his list of qualifications to be an archaeologist, I can say I am one.  He travels all over the US--Montana, Wisconsin, and San Antonio just last week--and for the nation and world to see him cooperating with our city means a great deal to those watching. 

Secretary of the Interior shares his perspective as 8th generation Spanish descendant and resident of New Mexico.

It might have been the ceremony of the entire morning, the trickle down of statistical fodder that will "help me to help you" and do my job.  Secretary Salazar fueled discussions about the economy and the importance of investing in the conservation agenda.  By preserving our natural and cultural resources we impact in a very positive way job creation (6.5 million jobs) and tourism industry ($700 billion dollars spent by visitors).  Those stats are the best fuel we have for defending cultural resources during these hard economic times.

Senator Bill Nelson gives history lesson and emphasizes Spanish legacy.

Next to talk was Senator Bill Nelson who said en Espanol that the history of Florida is the history of the United States, a theme that repeated in other addresses.  Senator Nelson summarized the expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries from de Leon to de Vaca and de Soto.  It is clear Nelson and Salazar have mutual affinity for each other and have worked together in the past on Everglades and the Tamiami Trail.

Reprentative Mica provides stats on visitation and Commission duties.

Representative Mica brought attention to the duties of the Commission.  Printed on the back of the program (see below) they state facilitation duties, but also call for scholarly research and interpretation of St. Augustine; to provide a lasting legacy and long-term benefit of the proceedings; and to recognize the diverse heritage present in St. Augustine in 1565. 

Mica also reminded all in the room that we are a city of 12,000 who manage over 200 sites that predate the American Revolution.  This is quite a burden on our town, one we are obviously willing to take up and celebrate, but we're going to need help.  Essential in carrying out this work will be the construction of a new Visitor's Center. He cited 1.3-1.4 million visitors each year come to the Castillo de San Marcos, but there is not yet an appropriate visitors center to welcome them. How's this for a stat- the last three visitor Centers to receive federal funding were the Martin Luther King site in Atlanta, Volcano National Park in California and Denali in Alaska; the top three of these combined receive 1.3 million visitors per year, same as annual visitation for the Castillo alone. Carl Halbirt is this very week conducting the archaeological investigations on the property to clear it for permitted construction.

Head Ranger at the Castillo Gordy Wilson listens as his park becomes focal point of Mica's comments.

Mayor Boles makes no small plan for St. Augustine.
Finally, Mayor Joe Boles of St. Augustine gave concise, spirited comments to demonstrate that as a town we are, to use a poker term, "all in" on this event.  He borrowed words from the planner of the Chicago World's Fair organizer Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." Boles said we will celebrate anything and everything.  "Nothing happened in the country that didn't resonate here."  Well put Mayor.  He clearly sees the event on par with an Olympics, a World's Fair, or at least a Super Bowl.

But the highlight for me as an archaeologist was the address made by Dr. Kathleen Deagan near the close of the meeting.  On behalf of historians and archaeologists working in the community, she welcomed the commission and said we are ready and willing to work with them to make the 450th a national success.  She cited many of Carl's recent finds, including the 1572 parish church found during the Aviles construction last summer and the 1570's fortification currently under study at the Spanish Quarter.  Her comments highlighted the collaborative and awesome historical nature of archaeology in this town.  Nowhere else can historical archaeology in the United State reach back as far as the late sixteenth-century.  Her call to include all the diverse 16th century stories recalled a comment made earlier by Salazar, that in St. Augustine we need to tell the story in all its completeness, the story of how we became a nation.

Dr. Kathleen Deagan, my hero.

I left, as you know, to travel down to Casa Maya and get lunch.  Participants walked the streets, and unbeknownst to many, I could hear the instant review of the public as they also walked the streets in pairs and groups of different numbers.  Many criticized previous attempts to organize.  Many agreed that the greatest failing of the other efforts came down to not recognizing the diversity of cultures present at the 16th century "discovery" and later founding.  There were many skeptics of the political posturing ("getting the Latino vote" was a comment I heard more than five times).  But I do sincerely believe that the Federal Commission marks a start of upward momentum in taking on the 450th celebration.  I felt everyone agreed the time for the creative throwing out of ideas was over, that it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

At the helm will be Jay Kislak, who is today the most googled man in the 32085 zip code.  He was surprisingly (to me at least) and unanimously voted in as chair of the commission with Mayor Boles and Katharine Dickenson voted as co-vice chairs.  He offered this comment on himself though I think it a fitting mantram for all involved: "I might not be the best, but I'll do my best."

I'm excited to see the next steps of the commission and the open hiring process for an Executive Director.  And I'm excited as excitement for the 450th ramps up to be a part of it.  If you'd like to join and take part, attend an upcoming meeting for the commission, join the SAAA and attend monthly lectures, look for more information on a Florida Humanities Council conference to be held (pending funding) at Flagler College in May 2012, and special Viva Florida commemorative talks in preparation by Center staff.

Wouldn't be a 450th meeting without Menendez! Chad from FOY on right.
 Program contents:

Text and photos: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

To view more pictures check out our Twitpic gallery from July 18th meeting http://twitpic.com/photos/FPANNortheast

For other perspectives of the meeting, check out these other on-line articles:

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