For the last several years, VAF has been the very fortunate beneficiary of significant financial support from a wonderful anonymous donor. Through this person’s generosity, our organization has been able to build an endowment of an amount that exceeds the wildest dreams of our Founding Folks. The question now is how we want VAF to use these significant resources – what will the next iteration of our organization be?
Over the past year and a half, the Board has been “envisioning” VAF’s possible future with this solid financial foundation. In these conversations, board members have emphasized that fieldwork remains our priority – the continuing exploration of the ordinary environment through measurement, materials analysis, archival records, and just plain thinking about the world around us. I hope you have had a chance to check out the “Fieldwork Forum” in the latest issue of Buildings & Landscapes, in which several of our members discuss changing methods of fieldwork and the new opportunities we have to understand our built environment.
The board conversations have also indicated a desire to help VAF members promulgate new findings through both traditional and newer digital media. This means we need to revisit the ways in which we communicate the activities of the organization and its members. If you haven’t “friended” VAF yet on your favorite social media sites, be sure to do so to see the terrific #VAF work being done by Melanie Fuechsel, with support from Paula Mohr and Margaret Grubiak. We will need to revisit (again!) how our website functions, and we are in the early stages of plans to “webinize” our work through online mentoring sessions on topics like fieldwork and publishing. There is plenty of room to grow our online presence, and we welcome anyone with digital “chops” to help make this happen.
To foster thinking about how we build VAF’s future, we are bringing the discussion from the board room to the general membership this year. I have asked President-elect Elaine Jackson-Retondo to head a new “Vision” Committee that will help us identify and realize new ways to carry out the work of the VAF. This group is open to any members interested in building the next phase of the organization (see the invitation from Elaine elsewhere in this newsletter). All of us have experienced how rapidly our world has changed in recent years, and this is an important opportunity to help VAF grow and address key contemporary issues. How can we build on the wonderful experience unfolding in our Mellon/UVa African American Field School, where communities of color are providing new interpretive frameworks for understanding the landscapes of underrepresented populations? How can we leverage new technologies to provide more information faster, without losing the intangible knowledge gained by hand-measuring a building? How might we increase our use of oral histories to inform the physical fieldwork we do? No idea is too small or too big – what would you like to see VAF doing in the coming years?
One of the key questions the board is grappling with now is whether we are ready financially and structurally to begin hiring paid staff to help us carry out our work. This would be a big step in expanding our reach, but it is also likely to affect the hands-on, volunteer spirit that has carried VAF forward through the years. I feel that we have a responsibility to act on the challenge our anonymous donor has provided us with his/her/their generous gifts, and I hope that we can find a way to add professional staffing in the near future to move us forward. In the meantime, please join the conversation to celebrate what VAF has accomplished so far and map out what we can achieve in the future!
Jim Buckley, VAF President