July 17, 2017
Historic Preservation is meant to keep the best parts of the past alive so that future generations can partake in these shared cultural resources. But what is the point of that if future generations aren’t interested, or simply don’t know how to approach the world of preservation? Thankfully Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, the founder and executive director of We Are The Next, is here to share about the work her nonprofit is doing to help youth in traditionally underserved and overlooked communities learn how to be active citizens and understand the value of preserving their neighborhoods and communities. Katie’s joining us from Southern California, but her message applies around the world. This is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Historic preservation can be meaningful for people of all shapes and sizes and ages. Katie Rispoli Keaotamai is the executive director and founder of We Are The Next, a non-profit organization focused on engaging young people in the Los Angeles area with their city, their neighborhoods, and helping them learn about how to be active and engaged citizens. Stick around to learn about some of Katie’s dos and don’ts of social media as well as how the youth and students working with We Are The Next are shaping the future of preservation. This is Preserve cast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast history to Baltimore, this is Preserve Cast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding and you’re listening to Preserve Cast. Today we are joined by Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, the executive director of We Are The Next, a social justice and youth organization. And we’re going to be talking with Katie about all things non-profit work, preservation, social media, and how to get people engaged and organized around important issues. Katie, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today on Preserve Cast.
[Katie Rispoli Keaotamai] Yeah, of course. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to join you guys.
[NR] So where are you actually joining us from? Where are we talking to you right now?
[KRK] So I’m actually in our office right now, which is located in downtown Long Beach, just about 20 miles south of Los Angeles in Southern California.
[NR] Sounds beautiful. You’re painting a beautiful picture already here.
[KRK] Our office is actually a adaptively-reused Nordstrom Rack that was converted into office space just last year. So there you go, I’m mixing all of our favorite subjects.
[NR] Yes, a historic Nordstrom Rack.
[KRK] Definitely a historic Nordstrom Rack. I believe it was built in 2002. So yes, it’s almost there.
[NR] You could remember back that far.
[NR] So tell a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved in non-profit work? And also maybe give us some insight. What should we know about We Are The Next?
[KRK] Yeah. Well, I actually got involved in non-profits kind of on accident. I mean, I at the time, was intending to go into law. I really wanted to practice land use law and help advocate for preservation groups who were suing developers and trying to use legal practices to save historic sites and also do environmental protection work. So that was kind of my passion area while I was getting my Master’s degree.
I did my Master’s in Heritage Conservation at USC, the University of Southern California in L.A. So I was studying heritage conservation or historic preservation and I was interested in the legal side, but I figured if I was going to end up going into land use law, then all of my clients were going to end up being non-profits. And so I really wanted to know how non-profits functioned. So I decided to get a certificate degree in non-profit management because the program at USC allows students to choose a certificate degree if they like, and most of the preservation students choose to get a certificate in planning. You can also do GIS and digital mapping technologies and other things like that. So those are kind of the more commonly pursued certificate programs, but I really wanted to do non-profit management.
So I went ahead and got my certificate degree in non-profit management, and then throughout my time studying preservation, I was just very bothered by the fact that I was always the youngest person in the room by a long shot. I think, you know, lots of us who are younger preservationists have had that experience. I found myself consistently going to all of these preservation events in the community and just feeling kind of along and there weren’t other people that shared my interests because I was so much younger. At the time I was 21 getting my Master’s degree. I came straight out of my Bachelor’s. So, I really just felt like there weren’t many other people like me and I wanted to change that. And so using some different experiences as inspiration, decided that this was something that fueled me enough to try to get young people into preservation and that is what really sparked me to start We Are the Next. So, I sort of took that non-profit background that I was building through my certificate degree and tied it in with actually starting a non-profit.
[NR] Wasn’t it enough just to go and work at a non-profit? You decided you had to start your own? That sounds sort of tough [laughter].
[KRK] You know, it is really tough.
[NR] It’s hard enough working at one, the allure of the high pay but –
[NR] – you know, you made it doubly hard.
[KRK] Yes. And private school student loans don’t really help. So, you know, it’s one of those things. But I sort of approached it like an experiment and I still approach it like an experiment. I by no means have dedicated and said that I’m going to do We Are the Next for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long I’ll do it, but I told myself I would give it five years when I started the organization. You know, in five years, if this was all a good project that sort of has reached its end point and it’s time for me to move on, then I will. If I want to keep doing it, I’ll keep doing it. If it’s time for me to leave but someone else could take it over, then that’s fine too. But the idea was really to show people that it was possible to get young people interested in historic places. And to do it through unique and unconventional methods. So I started We Are the Next really as a youth engagement organization that just sort of had a preservation angle. And I’ve just sort of been doing different programs through We Are the Next that we create that are very experimental over the last three years now and they’ve all been tremendously well-received and we have started kind of making waves in the preservation community and started to get recognized for the innovative perspective of our programming.
The students who participate all find it extremely relatable and interesting, and we have actually generated a pretty large number of students who end up having an interest in preservation or participating in some sort of preservation-related activity in their community after going through our programs. So, I think we really have been able to use this as sort of a case study and so that may be how it ends up working in the long run. You know, it may not always end up being a full-time job kind of non-profit, but if we can do work that sets an example and keep it going, then I’m doing my job for now.
[NR] So, why don’t you tell us a little – when you talk about unique engagement, I have two questions here. What kind of activities, what kind of things are you doing that are engaging a younger audience? And also, when did you start We Are the Next? When did that happen?
[KRK] So, just because that’s the easy part of your question, I’ll say –
[KRK] – that I started We Are the Next in 2014. So, we’re turning three in July of this year so –
[NR] Happy birthday!
[KRK] Around the time this podcast airs, we will be celebrating our birthday so thank you. We’ve been around for a few years now. We’re still kind of in that awkward teenager phase. You know, we’re not really a startup anymore but we’re also not an established organization with a track record. So we’re kind of hovering in that middle ground, but despite that we’re still doing work. We’re out there doing different programs all the time.
And the programs that we do are very engaging and I think the main thing that sets them apart from other programming that we see in preservation is really three things. The first is that they are designed for a young adult audience. So the students who participate in our programs are between the ages of 12 and 24, but the bulk of them are really between the ages of 15 and 18. So our students are mostly teenagers, which is pretty different compared to other preservation groups around the country that are doing youth outreach because, for them, youth outreach may be working with fourth and fifth graders doing field trips to historic sites, things of that nature. Or they’re working with 20-somethings who are getting their graduate degrees, right? So they’re working with post-secondary education students. We are actually working with teenagers. We work with Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, local libraries, high schools. Pretty much anyone who will give us teenagers, we are happy to work with their students.
[NR] And what do you do with them?
[KRK] So we do programs with them. This is the second part of why our programs are engaging, is we do programs that relate to what they want to know about and how they want to know it. So we, actually, have a group of high school students who are part of our Youth Advisory Council, which is part of We Are the Next. And those students design our programs.
So they work with our team and education consultants to create the curriculum. They design all of the experiences around what they are going through as a generation right now, the sorts of mediums that they prefer to use, like different social media platforms and different learning methods, and then the actual content. So when they go to a historic site, the tour that we do with the students is actually designed from the perspective of another 16-year-old, not from the perspective of the people who work at the museum. So it makes sure that whatever we’re doing with the students is actually captivating to them.
[NR] And it’s funny. It sounds so ground – not to interrupt here – but it sounds so groundbreaking, and you sit back and think, “Wow, this is really amazing,” and it is. But also there’s sort of a sense of like, “Yeah, obviously [laughter]. Why has it taken us this long [laughter] to figure this out?” And I think that’s the sign of, when you’ve hit on something when it seems so apparent and so obvious once you hear it, and you’re like, “Yeah. Why wouldn’t you have someone – if you want to tell something to a 16-year-old, why wouldn’t you figure out how you should talk to a 16-year-old by asking a 16-year-old?”
[KRK] Well, exactly [laughter].
[NR] I mean it’s just, it’s one of those things. It’s like an invention that you feel like should have always been there.
[KRK] Yeah. I mean, it’s the most obvious answer in the world, right? So part of my perspective when I started We Are the Next was I felt like there was this vicious cycle where these historic places were hosting all of these events, and they were wondering, “Why are no young people coming here?” But the people who designed the events and put the entire thing together were older people who couldn’t relate to the young people. So they’re creating these events from what they want to take place. And then when these young people, who are from a totally different generation, have totally different perceptions, show up, they don’t see them self-reflected in any of the content or the way it’s delivered, and they really don’t get captivated by the message and so they don’t come back. And so then, of course, because they’re not participating, no young people are inputting in designing the future content.
So it’s this weird circle where the people who design the content aren’t designing it for anyone except for themselves, and so no one else wants to come in and design the content. So I just saw that happening over and over and I was going to all these events. I’m the kind of person who just keeps coming back even though I didn’t necessarily believe in a lot of what I was hearing, I did ultimately believe in the cause of preservation. So I kept coming back because I already was invested in it. But I realized that other young people who aren’t already invested in preservation are not going to come back through this event. So to get them to return, we have to really captivate their attention.
[NR] So could you give us an example of one of these events that was designed by a 16 or a 17-year-old that works?
[KRK] Yeah. Actually, so one of the events we’re doing right now is a really great example of that. It’s called City 101. it’s a crash course to life in your city, is the sort of tagline of the program. And this is a program that was designed by students on our youth advisory council.
And so a couple of things to say about this program. One being that We Are the Next is not an organization that solely does historic preservation programs. Although that message sort of guides almost everything we talk about, it’s not the only subject we cover. So we do cover other aspects of civic engagement and other aspects of being an involved community member. And then the other thing is that this program is one where we are addressing an audience that’s a very diverse audience. So some of your listeners who may live in not metropolitan areas may not spend as much time with communities of color. But here in L.A. where we’re doing our work, the bulk of our students, over 60 percent of them, speak more than one language in the home. Almost all of them are non-White. I mean, it’s rare that we even have one or two White participants in any of our programs. So our students are coming from a variety of different backgrounds.
So this program, City 101, is one that we’ve created for high school students and it’s an eight-week course. And every week for eight weeks students come and they learn a different aspect of how to live in their city. Our perspective on it was, “It’s almost like Adulting 101,” right? Because at our youth advisory council meetings, one of our students, who’s a first-generation American, kind of had an emotional moment and shared that she was really afraid because she is a junior in high school. She’s applying to colleges. She has no idea how to live adult life as an American without her parents. And she was saying that being someone who grew up with parents who are undocumented immigrants, who didn’t take her to polling places – she never once learned how to vote because they don’t vote, obviously. She’s never been inside a government building before because her family avoids them like the plague for fear. And she hasn’t really been shown examples of how to be an engaged member of the community. And so on top of that, she’s also not really sure how to find an apartment and how to join up with your local historical society, how to volunteer your time, and how to know about the things she needs to know to be an active member of the community.
But, being part of this current generation, she’s super engaged and super tuned in to what’s happening in the community. So she’s really aware of all the issues and really wants to do something about it; but no one in her life has ever really shown her how to go about doing that. And I don’t by any means mean to blanket people who are not U.S.-born citizens, by any means saying that they’re all this way. But there are definitely students who are living in some of the lower-income areas that we service, who aren’t really shown in their day-to-day lives growing up how they can be engaged members of the community. I think that’s a problem among all of our communities nationwide regardless of background.
[NR] Well, that’s really I think an interesting conversation. Interesting to see how you can pull together – you know, I don’t think a lot of preservation groups would think about civic engagement, and these diverse audiences, and how you can affect their lives, and make their lives better by introducing them to the city. And obviously, there’s probably an opportunity to inject some preservation and some heritage into that conversation. But it’s obviously a bigger conversation, too.
[KRK] Well, it is. It’s definitely a bigger conversation, and this is part of why We Are the Next is a social justice organization, right? So that’s how we think of ourselves. Throughout this City 101 course, every week for eight weeks we’re covering a different aspect of really what it means to be a member of your community. So one week we’re talking about digital literacy. How to represent yourself online responsibly, how to communicate and do community organizing using social media tools. Everything from local government – how to know who your representatives are, and how to speak up for yourself if you want to go to a city council meeting. Also, how the actual, practical process of voting works to how to visit a historic site. How to go on a tour, how to get involved, what kinds of majors you should choose in college if you want to get into preservation. If you want to work in a place like this or work in architecture. So we’re introducing students to career paths that engage them in their city, both with its historic places but also with just the simpler aspects of just having government and doing civic work. And that’s all playing a very strong role in sort of how they grow up to think of themselves as representatives of their community.
[NR] Well, I think that this, actually, just to kind of jump in here for a second, might be a good spot for us to take a quick break –
[NR] – and then come back. And I want to hear more about how you have been able to utilize social media and some other new technologies to organize some of these efforts to get younger folks excited and engaged in these issues and civic engagement and preservation and all those sorts of things. So why don’t we take a quick break and when we come back we can jump into that right here on PreserveCast?
[KRK] Sounds great. Thanks.
[Stephen Israel] Katie is joining us today from beautiful and sunny California. Now, I love California as much as the next podcaster, but the sun can just be too much. I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for a little dreary, humid, mid-Atlantic history.
Did you know that Baltimore was home to the first umbrella factory in the United States? In fact, it is possible that Maryland’s shores were graced with the first-ever umbrella to reach the New World. Of course, a story like that is difficult to confirm. But Thomas Scharf wrote, in his 1874 book The Chronicles of Baltimore: Being a History of Baltimore Town and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, 1772: in this year, the first efforts were made in Baltimore to introduce the use of umbrellas as a defense from the sun and rain. They were then scouted as a ridiculous effeminacy. On the other hand, the physicians recommended them to keep off vertigos, epilepsies, sores eyes, fevers, etc. Finally, as the doctors were their chief patrons, umbrellas were generally adopted. They were of oiled linen, very coarse and clumsy, with rattan sticks. And were imported from India by way of England.”
Either way, by 1828, the umbrella was likely viewed a little more favorably. Because that was when German immigrant Francis Beehler opened his first umbrella factory. It didn’t take long for folks to realize the value of this device, once perceived as a South and East Asian novelty. Beehler Umbrellas soon faced worldwide competition stemming from their own home of Baltimore, including the companies Polan Katz and Company, and the Gans Brothers. The Gans Brothers old slogan speaks to the dominance that these Baltimore-based companies soon had in the global umbrella market, “Born in Baltimore, raised everywhere.” By the early twentieth century, Baltimore companies were producing upwards of two million umbrellas a year, some of those with carved ivory and wooden handles, seen as a locally-produced fine art. But all good things pass with time, and the vast majority of the Baltimore umbrella trade left the city by the 1980s, along with the majority of the dry goods manufacturers industry. [rain sound] Whoa! Sounds like it might rain around here. I better let you get back to PreserveCast.
Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe on of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We are joined today by Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, who is the executive director of We Are The Next. Before the break, we were talking about some of the really interesting and unique ways that they have taken advantage of to engage young individuals in both civic engagement, understanding where they live, and how to – in Katie’s words – be an adult, and also in sort of the broader school of historic preservation. One of the things that we wanted to talk with you about a little bit and touch on is this idea of social media and a lot of people talk about it a lot of the time. What experience have you had in it at We Are The Next? How have you used it to engage younger audiences? How does it work? Do you spend a lot of time doing it? What’s your thoughts on all of that?
[KRK] We definitely do invest a lot of time in social media. We have everything from posts that we have scheduled through regular series that we do to just the occasional post to live-tweeting when I’m at conferences or different events. For instance, we have a series on Instagram called Monumental Mondays. We always do #MonumentalMonday. Every Monday we highlight the story of a different local place. Sometimes it’s historic and it’s actually a designated monument. Other times it’s simply a place that sort of tells the story of a community here in our service area. So we pick a different place every week and highlight that through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We share it on those three platforms. And those are really the three platforms we use.
[NR] So you’re not on Snapchat?
[KRK] We are not on Snapchat. I do follow some preservation organizations on Snapchat.
[NR] We’re not there either, but people ask me all the time. I used to be the young preservationist, Katie, and then that’s when I started feeling old.
[KRK] Yeah. So I personally use Snapchat, but I wouldn’t say I’m that good at it. I do follow the Department of the Interior on Snapchat, always glad to see what they’re up to. But outside of that, I really don’t use it for work purposes. Now that Instagram has the stories feature, we do an Instagram story when we do a youth program. So over the course of the day when we’re working with students, we’ll do a story about that activity or the day that we’re doing with the students.
[NR] And do you find students? Do you engage with them? Is this how you develop leads basically for your programs, through social media? Or is that how you find them?
[KRK] I mean, we definitely have had people find us through social media, so we absolutely have had people who have seen our posts and then have sent us an e-mail or have sent us a direct message and said, “I’d love to have you guys work with our students.” We’ve also had young people who were students who have found us on Instagram who have sent us a DM or e-mailed us and said, “We would love to get involved. How can I volunteer with you guys or what can I do? How do I get to go on one of your field trips or your experiences?” So that’s been great. So it’s kind of worked for us in both ways. Both with reaching the educators, and the people who are in charge of the students, and reaching the students themselves.
[NR] And so when it comes to using social media to get people engaged in an issue, do you do much of that work with We Are The Next? Have you taken on those sorts of things if you have an advocacy issue? I don’t hear a lot of advocacy in the work that you’re describing, but have you had any success for that or do you ever try to work on any of those kind of issues?
[KRK] So, for a long time we had a pretty strict no-advocacy policy, and that was because we were working with the city governments and with developers where they were supporting our youth programming and we were afraid to sort of breach the conflict arena with potentially coming out against a project that one of our primary sponsors ended up being involved in and we hadn’t been aware, something like that. Just for fear of that situation happening. We had kind of stayed away from advocacy.
But now we’ve sort of – as we’ve gotten a little bit older and we’ve got more experience and we have a little bit more of a reputation, we’re not really as afraid to dive into the deeper issues. So, particularly in the last six months, starting in about August, we actually went through a whole re-visioning process with our organization, deciding to go in a new direction that was much more social justice oriented than what we’ve been doing before. And now the bulk of our work centers around vernacular historic sites, the history of under-represented communities in our service area, and we are very vocal about recognizing the history of disenfranchised communities, areas, and communities of color in our area. So, we’re being pretty vocal around issues of recognizing diverse history. I’m actually presenting a conference session at the National Trust Conference this year in Chicago all about the work We Are the Next is doing and how we come at preservation from a social justice lines. Sort of taking on the issue of inequality and how traditional preservation methods can actually be seen as propagating inequality in sort of furthering these issues by not talking about them. So, we are getting to a point where we are pretty open about those issues, specifically. But not in terms of a building being endangered and sort of standing up for a specific building.
[NR] Yeah. No, I think I understand exactly where you’re coming from. You’ve referenced a couple times your service area, and I don’t know if you ever defined what that was. We know we’re talking to you from Long Beach, but what is the service area of We Are the Next?
[KRK] Yeah. So, our service area is specifically the greater Long Beach region, which includes Long Beach and the community of Wilmington, which is technically part of L.A. but is very disenfranchised and sort of forgotten about by the L.A. area. And then we also touch on cities that touch Long Beach borders, which are cities like Compton, some of the smaller cities others may not have heard about. But there are eight – I believe eight cities that are sort of in our immediate area.
We do also touch borders with Orange County, but we draw our line at the Orange Curtain as Angelinos call it because our perspective is we want to be working where we’re actually needed and we’re not really needed in the areas of Orange County that border us because those areas actually have a lot of investment and they have a lot of funding for community programs. A lot of the students there have the ability to be exposed to volunteer opportunities and go on school field trips to places like historic sites.
While a lot of students who are in our service area, their cities either have no preservation organization at all. The cities do not have historic preservation ordinances, do not have staff that know anything about historic places. Places in their communities are primarily vernacular, stucco box type buildings. So, they’re rarely places where you would ever see a higher architecture example of a building. And so their history is pretty much glazed over because they’re sort of seen as not really having anything remarkable, but the bulk of their history belongs to communities of color and communities that are immigrant-heavy, communities that have been disenfranchised. So, we work mostly with those cities that don’t really have other resources.
[NR] Okay. Now, when it comes to social media, maybe just to kind of put a nice point on this, it seems like you’ve done a really great job in a lot of the work that you guys have done there in engaging folks and coming up with different ways of using it. Anything out there, sort of pet peeves that you have when it comes to that kind of stuff that you either try to avoid or that you would suggest other people trying to do this work in engaging similar audiences should avoid? Or perhaps in a positive way, things you should be doing?
[KRK] I definitely have a couple pet peeves.
[NR] Alright, let’s hear them.
[KRK] Well, I would say my biggest one is not knowing the audience you’re trying to reach through specific social media platform, and also understanding that you don’t need to use every social media platform. So, it may be a good idea to make a Facebook page for your company and then hold onto it just so no one else can have your name, but you don’t need to necessarily have a Facebook page. You’re adding work to your plate that you may not need to do if Facebook is not the platform for your audience. So, if you’re putting yourself through the wringer constantly trying to update your Facebook page because Facebook you should do a post, you know, two to three times a week. So, if you’re doing a Facebook post that often and Facebook you put totally different content than you put for, you know, Instagram or Twitter because you put things like articles and blog posts. Things that actually have a narrative with them that people open and read. So, for things like that, you know, you’re putting in all that work when you may not even need to if Facebook is an irrelevant platform for you.
So, for us, for instance, we do put things on Facebook, but if you actually look at our social media, the bulk of what we put on Facebook are things like requests for donations and our blog posts and then whenever we are in the media, if we’re in a news article or a video interview with a local news publication, we’ll share something like that on Facebook because the bulk of our Facebook audience are, you know, middle-aged residents or people who are on the younger bracket who aren’t middle-aged who are 30 plus, basically. And those are people who are going to donate to us. They’re people with means and they’re people who may become volunteers of our organization.
But on Instagram, we’re mostly posting beautiful photos. We’re posting pretty pictures of kids doing activities and posting info like, “If you want to come do this activity, you should contact us or you should request a permission form or you can DM us.” And we’re doing that because Instagram is where you get all the teenagers. If we want students to see a post and participate, we’re not going to put that on Facebook. We’re going to put that on Instagram.
That’s one of my huge pet peeves. During our City 101 program, one of the partners we were working with actually created a Facebook event for the eight-week course with all the dates outlined and put the logo and everything and then made us an admin of the Facebook event and I messaged them and said, “Oh, I noticed you guys made a Facebook event. Why did you do that?” And they said, “Oh, because the program starts in a week and you guys hadn’t made one yet.” And, you know, I kind of had to point out to them we hadn’t done that because Facebook doesn’t matter because our audience for this is between the ages of 14 and 18.
[NR] Right, and I think that there’s also just a misperception that Facebook still does matter. There’s a perception that some people still think it matters to that demographic where it doesn’t.
[KRK] You know, we ask our students all the time. Whenever we have the opportunity we’ll ask them, “What’s your preferred method of us contacting you?” And they do say by e-mail a lot of the time if we have to get a hold of them one on one. But they prefer that we reach out to them through Instagram or Snapchat. That is how they communicate. And so for them, we’ll even ask them, “Do you guys have Facebook profiles?” And about – if we have 30 kids in a room – maybe a quarter of them will say yes and we’ll ask them, you know, when they use them. And they’ll say they turn on e-mail notifications so they get a notice if someone sends them a message and that’s the only time they ever log in is if someone actually contacts them specifically and they tell us, “It’s mostly because my aunts are on Facebook or my mom is on Facebook and she wants to make sure I’m not getting into trouble and so my Facebook profile is to keep in touch with my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, you know, my parents. But I would never actually use my Facebook profile. It’s totally just for the sake of being -”
[NR] Yeah, no one would do that. That’s just embarrassing.
[KRK] Exactly. So for us, I thought it was laughable when our partners made the event for the activity, and we shared it because we did it from the angle like, “If any of you have kids who are in high school who want to come to this program, here are the dates. You should share the flyer with your kids and get them to sign up and come.” So from that perspective, if you want to reach the parents of teenagers, you may get some luck in doing that. But for the most part, if you’re trying to reach a teen audience, the best way to do it is Snapchat and Instagram for sure.
[NR] Yeah, so I think the big takeaways from this conversation are: if you want to talk to a younger audience, talk to that younger audience about how you should be talking to them [laughter].
[NR] And then make sure also you make sure you know how to talk to them.
[KRK] Exactly. And you just sort of touched on another thing that’s sort of been underlying in this whole conversation, and it’s really one of my core beliefs so I really want to make sure I put this out there. But one of the things I’m constantly repeating to myself is, “Nothing about us without us.” Right? So when we’re doing programs for high school students, they should be involved at every stage. They should be involved in coming up with what the program is, designing the curriculum, and then the actual implementation. So high school students should be there for all the steps. In my perspective, I apply that to all of my work or all of my perceptions on how things should work even if they don’t work well.
For instance, developments where we’re always very disappointed because they tell us they’re demolishing a building we love when it’s so late in the game. They’ve already invested a bunch of money, and they’re definitely not going to change their mind, right? It’s the classic “you only find out it’s happening once they’ve already pulled the demo permit and it goes to the planning commission.” So things like that. If we actually engaged the greater community at all levels – all the people that are going to be affected by our decisions and took their perceptions and ideas into account, all the projects we do would be better. So if you’re trying to get young people invested in your historic site or to get them to become members of your organization, you first need to understand what they want from you and why they’re not there in the first place. You can’t just create programming for teens and expect teens to enjoy it if you are not their generation. So I think that’s kind of a core takeaway from that sort of perspective.
[NR] I think it’s a good takeaway, and I think at that point we’re going to kind of move to our conclusion here. And the final question we ask pretty much anyone who comes to PreserveCast is to tell us about their favorite historic building, and so curious what yours is. Normally, it’s like picking a favorite child, but it’s that time of the show.
[KRK] Yeah, that’s really hard.
[NR] That’s what everyone tells us.
[KRK] It is really hard. Well, okay. So shameless plug. I’ll do that then. I would say my favorite building right now – I’m going to disclaimer right now because it changes all the time, but my favorite building right now would be the first Taco Bell. It’s still one of my favorite buildings [laughter].
[NR] Yeah, I think I’ve seen this online.
[KRK] Yeah, so a lot of people know about We Are the Next because we actually moved the first Taco Bell so it could be saved from demolition in 2015. It was one of our first projects, and we did it because we’re working with Taco Bell to actually turn the first Taco Bell into a venue where we can bring students and do youth programming. And so we sort of – we had a stake in the game. So we helped them move the building and save it from demolition so that we can selfishly use it down the line.
It’s sort of, in my opinion, one of the perfect places. It’s one of the perfect learning labs for the kind of work that we are doing because it’s a very conventionally un-beautiful historic site. It’s literally a stucco box, little 20 x 20 square foot cube with some fake Spanish arches on the front of it. It’s not a beautiful building. It definitely doesn’t have a story that everyone agrees with, and a lot of people think that it shouldn’t be told because it sort of glorifies unhealthy eating habits. But the actual story of Taco Bell is really the story of entrepreneurial spirit and of creativity and sort of the unbridled love of business that is at the core of the American economy. And so for me, I think it’s a fascinating place both because its vernacular, which is sort of my personal specialty when it comes to preservation, but also because it’s just a very interesting place with a sort of contentious message that young people happen to love. They are so excited when we talk about the Taco Bell. They love it. So when you can tie in something that everyone sort of relates to, it makes it so much more effective. So today, that’s my favorite historic place.
[NR] I love it. I have to say, that’s by far one of my most interesting answers. We’ve – we get a lot of, “Oh, this railroad station. This grand place. The Maryland State Capitol, the oldest operating capitol in America -”
[KRK] Hey, well, that’s pretty cool [laughter].
[NR] – and now we have the Taco Bell. And I think it’s just perfect. I mean, that shows the full breadth of what preservationist do. We do everything from prehistoric –
[KRK] Yes, all the Taco Bells.
[NR] – to the historic Taco Bell [laughter]. Well, this has been a real pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with you today. If someone wanted to get ahold of you or wants to learn more about We Are The Next, how do they do that?
Well, they can find us online. I mean, the best way is just to go to our website, which is WeAretheNext.org, but they can also find us on Instagram @Next_NonProfit. Same handle for Twitter. And they can find me at Katie@WeAreTheNext.org if they want to shoot me an e-mail. Anyone can get ahold of me anytime.
[NR] Well, Katie, it’s been a pleasure again to have you on today. Thanks for joining us. Thank you for all you’re doing to expand the audience and the message when it comes to preservation, and thanks for all your good work when it came to Taco Bell [laughter]. We’ll have to check back in and see how that project plays out.
[KRK] Yeah, definitely. Thanks so much for having me.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!
Katie had a lot to do with the grassroots efforts to save the first Taco Bell. Listen here.