05 May 2014

“Razing Awareness” a Final Time

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Historic preservation has recently been a hot-button topic for many cities and regions, especially here in Buffalo and Western New York. Fortunately, the tide has heavily turned in favor of saving our wonderful historic buildings. Especially for places like Buffalo looking to heritage tourism for economic recovery, saving historic buildings has a multitude of benefits: they’re attractive, unique, give a place character, and are physical representations of days gone by.

Unfortunately, not every battle is won.

Such was the case in Summer 2013, when the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna met the wrecking ball. Just a stone’s throw from Buffalo, the building was one of the very last reminders of the mighty steel plant that shaped and defined industry in Western New York for almost 80 years. In the middle of a storm of controversy and a very public and bitter battle to save the building, all was eventually lost when the walls came down.

When the facade came down, what was to happen next? This is where museums can take the spotlight. Our Director of Interpretation & Social Media, Steve Bukowski, took on this topic and challenge and molded it into his Masters Project (for his M.A. in Museum Studies) and oversaw an exhibit at the Steel Plant Museum of Western New York in Fall 2013.

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The exhibit, “Razing Awareness”, discusses the history of the building, the fight to save it and the aftermath of what happens when a building is lost. Engaging in this kind of exhibit is prime material for what museologist Graham Black called “civil engagement”–inspiring a museum’s audience to get involved in civic matters in their own locale. By interpreting this story and getting people interested, the exhibit sparks conversation about historic preservation, its benefits and costs, and what it means to cities and towns where it happens.

And after all, this conversation is what museums want to be encouraging.

Draw people in, give them a topic to discuss, and let them have at it (with some guidance, of course). Some of the  most effective learning comes from the development of independent views on a topic and fusing that with facts, opinions of others, and informed decisions to create a personal view of the topic and the world at large. Historic preservation is a great topic to center this discussion around because of both its popularity and abundance of opinion on either side of the discussion, though favor has swung towards pro-preservation views as of late (in Buffalo, at least).

 

The exhibit is coming down this weekend, and the last chance to view it at the Steel Plant Museum of Western New York is this week. The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday from 10am-5pm, and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@SPMofWNY).

Steve is actually the museum’s guest lecturer this Wednesday, May 7th, to discuss the exhibit, the building and preservation inspiring engagement. Doors open at the museum at 6pm, Steve will begin speaking at around 7pm. Free admission, free parking, and a last chance to view the exhibit. The Steel Plant Museum of Western New York is located at 100 Lee Street, Buffalo, in the Old First Ward.

 

 

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