Preservation Virginia launches African American Fellows Program

Richmond, Virginia (VR) – Studies show that only 1% of conservation professionals are African American. Through a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Preservation Virginia is launching a Fellows program to expand the network of Black conservation professionals and increase interest in careers in historic preservation.

This pilot program, starting in 2023, will begin with three African-American participants, including both college students and non-traditional keepers — community members who undertake preservation efforts without formal training. Non-traditional conservationists are often concerned with local issues and need support and education to help preserve African American history and historic sites. Preservation Virginia intends to expand the program each year to include more participants, thereby expanding the number of African American sites to be preserved and the number of trained historic preservationists who oversee them.

“This initiative was inspired by Brent Leggs, executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia. “At our 2020 African American Historic Resources Conference, Brent challenged Virginia to be a leader in attracting more black students to conservation and preserving more African American historic sites in the Commonwealth.”

Planning for the Fellows program began in 2021, led by an advisory committee of African American leaders. The 10-week curriculum incorporates key interdisciplinary principles—anthropology, architecture, sociology, urban and regional planning, and finance—that relate to heritage preservation and then apply these to bespoke independent study projects. The program will combine coursework, a personal residency, field trips and conference participation. Participants are supported by a designated Preservation Virginia staff member and a hands-on mentor.

Leading this initiative at Preservation Virginia is Dr. Lisa Winn Bryan, Community Engagement Manager. “We play a serious role in promoting greater diversity in conservation while being more considerate of Virginia’s African American communities,” said Dr. Winn Bryan. “As the program continues after the pilot year, a network of alumni will be built to create a support group for African-American conservationists.”

Individuals who wish to apply to the Fellows program can do so online at Paper applications can also be sent by post. Applications are due by December 30, 2022, the first course will start in February 2023.