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Analysis: Can historic preservation survive Covid-19?

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) had decisions to make. As the country went on lockdown, how could the organization continue saving the buildings that define Savannah’s past, present, and future—especially when that mission so heavily relies on the participation of the public? The HSF leads walking tours of local homes and gardens, and it owns and operates the Davenport House Museum, an 1820s Federal-style home that encapsulates the sweep of the city’s story, from antebellum slavery to 21st-century tourism.

At the start of the crisis, the HSF moved as much of its operations online as possible. The foundation’s staff began working remotely, creating programs for May’s Virtual Preservation Month and writing grants, fundraising, and considering buildings to save. But it also furloughed or laid off half its staff and, on March 16, closed the Davenport House. “They interface with the public and tell a story; they can’t be virtual,” says Susan Adler, HSF’s CEO and president, of the employees they had to let go. “For the foundation, I think not unlike so many nonprofit foundations, it’s seeing what you have to do to stay alive.”

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