The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., in partnership with the DC Heritage Tourism Coalition, requests a $40,000 planning grant to develop a cohesive interpretive model linking the proposed Washington City Museum and the Neighborhood Gateways projects. Together these projects will tell the larger story of Washington, D.C., in a way that never has been done before. A framework of humanities themes will be developed to link specific sites in a coherent narrative interpreting the city of Washington for local and regional residents and national and international tourists. Neighborhood Gateways will interpret the city as a museum with a network of sites all linked through a common orientation and information network. Both the centrally located City Museum, proposed for downtown D.C., and the neighborhood gateway sites, located throughout the city, will feature exhibits. This planning phase will concentrate on developing a model program of introductory exhibits for the City Museum and two neighborhood exhibits to be located in Adams Morgan and Shaw, two communities that already are attracting considerable tourist and local visitation.
This project is proposed at a time when Washington, D.C. is struggling to overcome a negative image, dysfunctional local government, lack of democracy, racial and ethnic fragmentation, and intense competition with surrounding suburbs. The city's future economic health is going to be very dependent on establishing new sources of revenue to replace relocated and reduced government dollars. Tourism, already Washington's largest private industry, is expected to increase, funneling much needed cash into the local economy. Moreover, heritage tourism projects - such as this project proposed by The Historical Society of Washington D.C. and the D.C. Heritage Coalition - is projected to be the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry.
What exactly is heritage tourism? A 1988 symposium sponsored by the African American Museums Association and Partners for Livable Places included a definition of heritage tourism provided by Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing.
When we talk about tourism we're talking about a lot more than just cultural and heritage attractions. We're here to talk about visiting the communities, institutions, sites, homes, restaurants, museums, stores, and factories, that will educate. We are here because we believe that by traveling, by visiting these places, we are educating, we learn, and from that new knowledge, we receive not only pleasure but information. That information can be transformed into knowledge that may be the basic, hopefully, of wisdom. In museums we find the real thing. And if it's not real it's not a museum: you can't have a museum of reproductions. To see reality in context though, we must literally move, because museums cannot present the real thing in context. If it's inside the galleries it's obviously out of context... One of the only ways we can experience the real thing in context is by not moving it, but by moving ourselves-its called traveling. That's the important educational basic of tourism, that we go to the real thing. (Byron Rushing in Black Heritage Tourism: Exploitation or Education, Partners for Livable Places, Washington, D.C., 1989, p.4)
This project is based on the premise that Washington, D.C, is in fact, two cities. One city is the federal, ceremonial and celebratory city of the national Mall and the monuments. The other is the story of the nation's capital as a city of people, places, and events of local, national and regional importance. These two cities rarely intersect. National and international visitors see only the ceremonial city devoid of the people and institutions that define urban culture. Local residents are often unaware of how their city and neighborhoods figure as part of the national story of the nation's capital.
Every year more than 20 million visitors come to Washington, D.C., for entertainment and a history lesson. We believe that they should take away more than a sightseeing excursion to the top of the Washington monument and a souvenir T-shirt. They should leave with a new understanding about the nation's capital. New interpretive exhibits at a centrally located City Museum and satellite facilities in neighborhood locations will serve to lure some of the city's 20 million visitors off the Mall and into the city so that they can contribute to the economic well-being of the city and take away a substantial humanities experience grounded in real places, real people, and real history.