As an archivist and curator at the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives (CIAA), Tricia Gilson understands the importance of maintaining and displaying documents of the city’s built heritage. Gilson is one of the four co-chairs of “Foundations and Futures,” the 2016 inaugural symposium of Exhibit Columbus. She is chairing the session titled Making and Maintaining, which will feature presentations by Jeff Brown, Mary Chandler and Steve ForsterBen Wever.
Before coming to Columbus, Gilson taught cultural anthropology and museum studies at Ball State University. She previously held positions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Getty Research Institute's Scholar Program in Los Angeles. Gilson earned her PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of Southern California.
Gilson works with documents, photographs, and drawings relating to Columbus' architecture as both an archivist and a curator. Her work maintaining CIAA materials ensures the survival of factual records of cultural objects, while curating exhibits allows her to translate this knowledge into concise presentations for the general public. Gilson says, “I seek to develop new ways for people to experience architecture and to participate in the preservation of cultural heritage.” Essentially, Gilson’s work impacts how documents of the past are presented and therefore understood by society.
Gilson’s work in the archives has led to several well-received exhibits highlighting CIAA’s unique collection. A recently opened exhibition at IUCA+D focuses on urban planning and redevelopment in Columbus, while past exhibits have highlighted individual monuments and architects, such as last summer’s Columbus City Hall: Center for Civic Inspiration. One exhibit in particular, Reframe Columbus, perfectly illustrates how Gilson encourages the community to interact with the illustrious design heritage of the city. This exhibit included historic photographs of the city and challenged residents to replicate them in the present. This exhibit contextualized the sites, presenting the historical surroundings and built environment of Columbus through the original photographs and asking visitors to participate in the construction of a modern identity for the sites by sharing their own photographs. The exhibit is not merely a static snapshot of brick and mortar, but a dynamic melding of past and present Columbus. “I want people to realize the cultural heritage of the city, but also understand that this heritage relates to Columbus today,” Gilson explains.
The Making and Maintaining session Gilson will chair draws attention to this relationship between the preservation of cultural heritage and the process of creating new cultural meaning. Gilson says, “Columbus is ideally positioned as an example of how architectural heritage can be preserved and yet continue to serve the community.” Columbus has the potential to demonstrate historically conscious development in the arts and architecture. By highlighting both the “making” and “maintaining” of landmarks of Columbus, this session aims to inspire the next generation of artists, architects, builders and cultural contributors. As the speakers will explain, Columbus’ art and architectural treasures have unique needs but also unique power to serve the community and shape its future. This future is made possible by individuals and organizations who, like Tricia Gilson and CIAA, are stewards that preserve and interpret the city’s heritage.