The San Antonio Conservation Society has hired Vincent Michael, who served as executive director of the Palo Alto, CA-based Global Heritage Fund from 2012-2015, to be its next executive director, it was announced Friday. Michael is replacing Bruce MacDougal who served as executive director of the Conservation Society for more than 25 years before retiring in March and moving to Williamsburg, VA.
For Michael, the new position in San Antonio will be a natural progression from his work at the Global Heritage Fund, an organization whose mission is "to sustainably preserve the most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in developing regions."
Michael, who is moving here from his home in Palo Alto, is energized by the prospect of working with other San Antonio organizations and government entities dedicated to historical and cultural preservation in San Antonio.
"I land (in San Antonio) next Monday and I’m going to spend my time meeting people and making those important connections because I’m really excited to work with all of those groups,” Michael said in a phone interview. “(San Antonio) seems like a city where people pull together, pull in the same direction, and that’s very exciting.
“I spent 2012-2015 at the Global Heritage Fund working on World Heritage Sites and here I am coming to, technically, the second-largest city in the country with a World Heritage Site, (after New York City) but it’s a really significant one with the Missions,” Michael said. “It sort of brings my career full-circle because I’ve worked in China, Ukraine, Cambodia, and Guatemala at World Heritage Sites, and to end on one, here in the U.S., is really wonderful.”
Philadelphia, with Independence Hall, is actually the first U.S. city to be designated a World Heritage City, which occurred last year at the XIII World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in Arequipa, Peru. The birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and and the U.S. Constitution was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Michael's arrival in San Antonio will be a return to the city where he was born. His family moved away soon afterwards, but Michael has returned on numerous occasions times and has witnessed the city's growth and development in recent years.
“I’ve been working on improving the National Register of Historic Places so it reflects the diversity of the heritage of the United States. A lot of the buildings that were placed on the National Register were placed because they were architecturally significant, and that usually meant that White, European males, who were also most of the architects, thought they were significant,” Michael said. “So we’re working on, ‘How do you make more room for Native Americans, how do you make more room for the large Hispanic community, make more room for African-Americans?’ I’m very excited about continuing that effort within a wonderful cultural melting-pot like San Antonio.”
Michael served as Director of the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1996-2010, and was the John H. Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation from 2006-2013. He received his doctorate in architectural history from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The San Antonio Conservation Society was founded in 1924 to preserve “historic buildings, objects, places and customs relating to the history of Texas, its natural beauty and all that is admirably distinctive to our State.” It was founded by 13 women, and has since grown to a membership of more than 1,700 men and women.
Michael wants to incorporate emerging technology as a tool for exploration to ensure that the Society remains true to its mission and continues implementing modern preservation practices, especially with large projects such as Alamo Plaza.
“The modern approach to preservation is to use the tools of technology. So you don’t need to tear down a (nearby) building to recreate a part of the battlefield from March of 1836, because you could do that with your phone or with a variety of things,” Michael said. “(When you reconstruct), one, you get sort of a fake antique that doesn’t have the feel of the real place, and, two, in the modern technological world, you don’t need to (rebuild). It’s much better to engage people and give them ways to visualize the past, figure out where things were and to trace it in the landscape.”
Thinking back to visits to San Antonio during the Museum Reach and Pearl Brewery during construction, Michael says he’s excited about the and recent development in downtown San Antonio and the strides that have been made to preserve the City’s history.
“(San Antonio) is a place where intangible heritage means a lot, tangible heritage means a lot, and people mean a lot.”
*Top image: The San Antonio Conservation Society's main office in King William District. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.