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The Florida Public Archaeology Network: A Decade of Success in Community Engagement

July 18, 2016

fpanThe past several years have witnessed broad cuts in cultural heritage programming in the United States, particularly on the local and state levels. At the same time, several cultural heritage programs are, if not thriving, at least sustaining their presence and activities. A program that has sustained and even expanded its presence over the past decade is the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  I have long been a fan of FPAN and the many resources they provide for all forms of community outreach.

In a recent article “Lessons Learned Along the Way: The Florida Public Archaeology Network after Ten Years” (Public Archaeology, 14:2, 92-114), William B. Lees, Della A. Scott-Ireton & Sarah E. Miller present a summary on what has worked and what has not worked for the organization over the past decade.

The article begins in noting that:

The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is a new direction for public archaeology programmes, dedicated to the express purpose of preserving the state s heritage through public education and engagement. It differs from other programmes, past and present, because it is focused solely on archaeological preservation through public engagement and because it is not housed within a larger programme with other research or heritage management responsibilities.

Here are some bullets that highlight my takeaways from the summary article:

  • FPAN was initially envisioned to expand on Dr. Judith Bense’s community archaeology in downtown Pensacola, taking the program state-wide.
  • After state legislation established the program, the University of West Florida provided funds to launch a steering committee and put meat on the bones of the legislation.
  • The legislation gave the steering committee a good bit of latitude in developing a program that was not a part of an existing organization. The steering committee was careful not to create a program that duplicated the efforts of existing organizations in the state. Ultimately they proposed a model where local universities or organizations would host or sponsor an FPAN regional center.
  • FPAN intentionally excluded “traditional archaeological research” as a major goal of regional centers. I find this exclusion particularly compelling as a means to focus public archaeology on a community’s needs and not on a regional directors interest, or even archaeologically driven “traditional research” questions.
  • Like most community based cultural heritage organizations, budgetary constraints over the past few years required restructuring at FPAN. But for “the public there is little change as we (FPAN) retain the same geographical regions and maintain offices and staff in each.”
  • FPAN also prides itself in becoming more proactive to meet Florida’s varied educational needs.   Of importance FPAN centers revise and repackage individual tools they create for other programs or regions of the state – and from firsthand experience I can attest FPAN’s products serve as models outside of Florida, across the Southeast, and beyond.
  • FPAN also delivers workshops and programs that address expressed community needs for a true co-creative experience. Sarah Miller’s article “Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida” published in Advances in Archaeological Practice is an excellent example of this process.
  • FPAN also plays a strong advocacy role for archaeology on a regional and statewide basis and serves as a national role model for our discipline. (See Sarah Miller’s SAA webinar on advocacy, archived for SAA members).
  • To be accountable to the taxpayers who pay for the programs, FPAN also sees “. . . outcome assessment . . . as the next essential step needed to ensure and evaluate FPAN s contribution to archaeological preservation in Florida.”

As noted, a unique role FPAN plays is that their sole responsibility is public outreach and education in archaeology. They are not subject to soft money generation through CRM projects or driven by quantification of “traditional archaeological research.” In this way public archaeology is not a department within FPAN, public archaeology is FPAN, making quite clear the function of the organization. For FPAN, public outreach is not something that gets snuck in on the side, or if a staff member is particularly interested in community engagement.  Public outreach is the reason for FPAN’s existence.

In this way, the organization does not keep two sets of books so to speak – one which it produces for the professional community and one for the lay audience. Both books are the same. This approach seems the strongest way to demonstrate relevancy and build community support for the cultural heritage disciplines.

Your thoughts on the FPAN approach?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Giovanna peebles permalink
    July 19, 2016 12:37 am

    Robert, I too have been a huge fan of FPAN, first encountering them perhaps 7 or 8 years ago in the Exhibit Hallat an SAA annual meeting. I was blown away by their productivity and reach. One thing you did not mention in your blog, and I don’t know if Bill mentioned it in his report, is that FPAN works as long as their hosting organization keeps supporting them. Bottom line is that strong hosting organizations are a key ingredient to sustainable public outreach. From a practical point of view, What else makes it all work? An income stream? Political will? What else? Thanks for putting this out there! G

    • July 19, 2016 1:03 am

      Giovanna,

      Important point on the hosting organization and important additional questions. The article does raise the ups and downs with some of the hosting organizations over the years. That issue is critical and explored well in the article. Any other takers on this?

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