The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Eastern State Penitentiary its annual Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in a ceremony at its annual National Preservation Conference. This year’s conference was held in Houston, TX. The award recognizes success and innovation in historic preservation, management and programming at historic sites.
Eastern State President & CEO Sara Jane Elk, and Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President, Director of Interpretation and Public Programming, accepted the award on behalf of the institution.
Katherine Malone-France, Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, presented the award and stated that Eastern State “has finished ambitious preservation projects in recent years and expanded its focus on contemporary corrections, all while remaining true to the uncompromising standards of this national historic landmark.” Malone-France called Eastern State “the closest thing this country has to a national prison museum” at a time when mass incarceration has become an important civil rights issue.
Eastern State’s newest exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, examines the exponential rise of the U.S. prison population since the 1970s and its effects on individuals, communities, and U.S. society. Earlier this year, Eastern State hired four formerly incarcerated persons to give tours and speak directly with visitors about the state of American prisons today. Malone-France further recognized the organization for actively embracing “its historic significance and contemporary relevance as a site exploring complex issues with broad audiences.”
Following the award ceremony and keynote address by Nina K. Simon, author of The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance, Kelley also participated in a panel discussion that addressed activating historic places to better teach history, tell stories, and promote reconciliation and healing. The awards presentation, keynote and panel were live-streamed on Nov. 17 and are now available on YouTube.