A recap of the 19th Annual Calumet Heritage Conference: Celebrating and Resorting the Calumet’s Living Landscape
On Saturday October 20th at Lost Marsh Golf Course in Hammond, IN, around 80 people that live and work in the Calumet region came together to explore the Calumet’s living landscape, asking questions about how to restore and sustain a balance among nature, commerce, and culture. The conference was presented by Calumet Heritage Partnership and included a full day of panels, discussions and breakout activities that allowed participants to connect with other cultural, environmental, and heritage organizations in the Calumet.
Field Museum is a partner of both organizations in this endeavor. The Calumet Heritage Area is dedicated to telling the story of the region’s nationally significant natural, industrial, labor, and cultural heritage assets, that are preserved and interpreted to enrich the lives of its residents and visitors from across the nation.
The conference kicked off with a panel titled “Challenges and Opportunities of Environmental Stewardship in the Calumet”, featuring panelists Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; Brenda Scott Henry, Director of Green Urbanism and Environmental Affairs of City of Gary; and Benjamin Cox, Executive Director of Friends of the Forest Preserves and CHP Board Member. The discussion, moderated by Katherine Moore Powell, PhD, Climate Change Ecologist of the Field Museum, explored different perceptions of green space, whether or not these perceptions align with traditional conservation approaches, and challenges and opportunities surrounding healthy green spaces. Watch the full panel, here.
Katherine Moore Powell noted that “from non-profit to urban to national park, each panelist spoke about how more people need to discover a connection to nature. It seems our modern lifestyles have created distance between us and the natural world, and that creates unrealistic views of what a healthy green space is, and what role it plays in our own physical and mental health.” Panelists addressed this challenge with solutions in their respective communities.
"The value of our land must be based on more than tax revenue and short term profitability, that long term ecosystem services (clean air and water, recreation, culture and beauty, etc.) are equally if not more valid in determining the best use of that land, but this way of thinking will require a cultural shift in the way we see prosperity and success as a society” - Katherine Moore Powell, PhD, Field Museum
Paul Labovitz explained that the Indiana Dunes has unique habitats and high biodiversity, all within arm’s reach of Chicago, making it one of the most accessible National Park Service entities in the United States. Brenda Scott Henry spoke about the challenges surrounding Gary’s vacant lots, but community, regional, and national support together have created a vision for sustainability, such as developing some vacant lots into native gardens. Benjamin Cox expressed some concern; although there is great work being done around conserving high quality green spaces, there is a challenge around convincing policy makers and government officials of the value in not developing a parcel and keeping it as green space. An overall sentiment from the panel arose, as summarized by Katherine: “The value of our land must be based on more than tax revenue and short term profitability, that long term ecosystem services (clean air and water, recreation, culture and beauty, etc.) are equally if not more valid in determining the best use of that land, but this way of thinking will require a cultural shift in the way we see prosperity and success as a society”.
This panel was followed by a presentation from a new network of museums, galleries and local history centers in the region called Calumet Curators. Madeleine Tudor, Applied Cultural Research Manager of Field Museum introduced the Calumet Curators network, whose nearly 20 partners showcase the natural, industrial, and cultural richness of the Calumet region by connecting local interpretive centers and collections-based organizations that tell the region’s heritage stories. Madeleine also introduced a traveling exhibition currently being developed by this group, called “Calumet Voices, National Stories” (working title). This multi-sited, collaboratively-curated exhibit project will showcase the globally rare natural areas, the nation’s premier heavy industrial district, and the grit and passion of diverse communities that make up the unique Calumet landscape. The exhibit will open sequentially at three local venues across the Calumet region and end at the Field Museum. Each venue will be a unique display, created by a different team of local heritage partners with guidance from the Field Museum. The first site will be at the Pullman National Monument/Historic Pullman Foundation Visitors Center in mid-2019, followed by the Gary Public Library and the Brauer Museum of Art. Components from each venue will be displayed in the Field Museum's Comer Gallery in February 2021, and will include selections from the Field’s own collections from the Calumet region.
Julie Zasada, Executive Director of the Cedar Lake Historical Association (CLHA), gave a brief history of Cedar Lake and introduced the group to CLHA’s museum. Julie is excited that the Calumet Heritage Area boundaries extend far enough south to include Cedar Lake, as it is an important part of the region's history and the Calumet Heritage Area will provide a new opportunity to tell these stories.
Edward Sadlowski’s “Steelworkers Fight Back” campaign during his run for the presidency of United Steelworkers captivated the nation and was a key component in pushing the United Steelworkers to becoming a more democratic union. Stories about the Calumet’s people and heritage are part of what makes the region nationally significant, and these stories will be brought to life with the Calumet Heritage Area.
Following the resolution, Tom Shepherd, who has been a longtime advocate of the Calumet region via his participation in numerous societies and groups devoted to relating and preserving the Calumet’s history, gave a presentation on The Little Calumet Underground Railroad Project. Near the Little Calumet River lies the former Jan Ton Farm, a safe house for Freedom Seekers that would have traversed through the region escaping slavery. Tom spoke to how his group is working to improve the route with signage and monuments to tell the story of these Freedom Seekers and abolitionists like the Ton family. One of those monuments would be located near the Jan Ton Farm in Beaubien Woods.
The last panel was about The Lakeshore People’s Museum, with panelists Cassandra Cannon of the museum and Founder and CEO of the United Urban Network of Gary, Rhonda Cox of the museum and Executive Director of Artopia Arts & Crats Cultural Academy, and Willow Walsh, of the museum and a student at Valparaiso University. This panel touched on the importance of telling the stories of all people in the region, and how no one's story should be left out. The Lakeshore People’s Museum accomplishes this by allowing residents to bring in artifacts and arts that have preserved their cultural and familial heritage to their pop-up museums. These resident artifacts could range from dolls to quilts to letterman jackets that tell the story of their family’s heritage. Watch the full panel, here.
Before lunch, Brenda Barrett, the editor of the Living Landscape Observer, appointee to the ICOMOS Scientific Committee on Culture Landscapes, and former National Coordinator of Heritage Areas of the National Park Service, presented a fascinating keynote address on how to conserve culture and nature on a landscape scale. Brenda spoke to the importance of heritage areas, as they are one of the only vehicles that can connect a bi-state landscape and region like the Calumet, and heritage areas can improve surrounding communities by providing economic opportunity through tourism, environmental protection by connecting green spaces, and a platform for telling the unique histories of the United States. Brenda drew from examples from her work in Pennsylvania and touched on some key learnings from her work there, such as how important it will be to engage the community when starting to brand and manage the Calumet Heritage Area. Brenda also spoke about some key examples of other National partnerships that have similar visions as the Calumet region, such as the Network for Landscape Conservation. Watch the full address, here.
The working lunch included an engaging breakout activity surrounding management planning for the Calumet National Heritage Area. The Calumet National Heritage Area Feasibility Study has been approved by the National Park Service as it meets all 10 criteria for becoming a National Heritage Area. A significant next step in becoming a national heritage area is turning the feasibility study into a management plan that demonstrates how the Calumet National Heritage Area will run and who will run it. The breakout activity was designed to engage conference participants in thinking about how they might address the different priorities that would be activated on a regional scale with the Heritage Area.
After lunch, the group had planned to go on an afternoon group paddle on Wolf Lake, hosted by Wilderness Inquiry. Additionally, Michael Boos, Executive Director of the Association for Wolf Lake Initiative, would give a brief history and overview of Wolf Lake once on site. Upon leaving the conference, the weather took a turn for the worse, but those that did make it to Wolf Lake did learn some interesting facts about Wolf Lake from Michael Boos before calling it quits due to the weather.
Coming out of the conference, the next steps are to continue with management planning for the Calumet Heritage Area. The programming put together by Calumet Heritage Partnership that was highlighted throughout the conference will be key components to making the Calumet Heritage Area a reality. For more information on Calumet Heritage Partnership, visit calumetheritage.org, and for more information on the Calumet Heritage Area, visit calumetheritagearea.org.