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Foundation Matters

Winslow’s Word: January 2024

Posted: January 24, 2024

Winslow Hastie, President & CEO

Last month, Historic Charleston announced a new strategic plan adopted by our Board of Trustees that involved a proposal to transition away from owning the Nathaniel Russell House. While we anticipated the announcement would not be celebrated by all, we were blown away by the swift and passionate response from broad swaths of the community that was clearly compelled by a deep connection to the Russell House. Following the outpouring of response from local and national voices, we committed to listen carefully to each phone call, letter, and DM regarding the Russell House. They echoed one common refrain: “Protect this Museum.”

That is why the HCF Board of Directors met on January 10th and voted to reverse its decision.  Historic Charleston Foundation will continue to own, operate, study, and care for the Russell House and its collection. In addition, the Foundation plans to convene a panel of experts dedicated to thinking creatively about the museum’s programming with the goal of creating a vibrant, sustainable, and relevant historic site that is accessible to a diverse array of audiences. That is the challenge that has been laid before us and we stand ready to accept that challenge. In our minds these issues are critical for the Nathaniel Russell House as well as the Aiken-Rhett House.

From the exhibit, Promiseland by Fletcher Williams, 2020, Aiken-Rhett House Museum

Over the past several years, HCF has explored what diversifying programming could mean for each of our house museums. At the Russell House, we have worked with partner organizations like Bulldog Tours on their ongoing Culinary Tour series to expand both the reach and the breadth of interpretation possible at the site. We have revisited popular programs and thematic tours to find ways to both expand and update the historic interpretation, including the Holiday Candlelight Tours. We are committed to delving deeper into the treatment and interpretation of the Kitchen House through archaeology and research.

Utilizing its unique preserved-as-found spaces as a backdrop, the Foundation has engaged a variety of artists in different disciplines to be inspired by the Aiken-Rhett House for temporary installations and performances. The site-specific exhibits, like Fletcher Williams’ 2020 exhibit or Cookie Washington’s 2022 exhibit, both highlight the palpable spirit of the house museum as well as paying homage to the enslaved men, women, and children that lived and worked at this large property. Beyond visual art, the Foundation has engaged musicians including Adia Victoria for the pilot episode of Charleston Sessions. Produced in partnership with Explore Charleston and STAC House Shows, the Aiken-Rhett hosted two intimate performances by Adia; one for the students from neighboring Charleston Progressive Academy and another for a select group of guests in the Double Parlor.

Adia Victoria performs at ARH for Charleston Progressive Academy Students

To many people the Foundation’s house museums are the physical embodiment of Historic Charleston Foundation and its preservation and advocacy ethic. However, at our core, we are a community-based historic preservation and advocacy organization. We are grateful for those who advocated for the site’s continued operation as a publicly accessible, historic asset for Charleston’s residents and visitors. As we look towards the future, we will amplify the conversation about how best to position these historic sites so that we can continue to engage new visitors and encourage others to visit again. Stay tuned.

Thank you, as always, for your passionate engagement, your support, and your shared love of Charleston.

3 responses to “Winslow’s Word: January 2024”

  1. Linda Koutoufas says:

    Thank you for listening to the community. The Nathaniel Russell house is a treasure! So glad it will continue to be in good hands.

  2. Jan Hillis says:

    I supported the N. R. House decision, but also think that rescinding it after the public outcry was surely the best course of action. I even saw a bumper sticker the other day that said something surprising like, “Say No to Winslow!” Isn’t it great that people care that much? An easement on the property would have served to preserve the N.R. House for perpetutity, as stipulated. I trust that it is the HCF’s goal to protect the character of our city as a whole, both through individual properties and civic input. Maybe the community involvement this has spurred will help bring more appreciation and support for the Foundation. Hope so.

  3. Janet Smith Coyne says:

    IF you’re looking for ideas, I would love to see more of a horticultural presence in the gardens. I would like to see MORE flowers in the garden that reflect a variety of seed-to-plant-to-garden of heirloom flowers and ones that would have been of that time period. I think the gardens are lovely but I think there could be more of an emphasis on them as a drawing card, in and of itself. Starting from seed and showing the public how it’s done would be a fascinating added bonus, I think!

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