This blog aims to keep everyone up-to-date on SPI news as well as broader cultural heritage and preservation current events.
First things first:
What is SPI?
SPI stands for Sustainable Preservation Initiative, and is a non-profit organization founded by Larry Coben. We seek to preserve the world’s cultural heritage using a groundbreaking model.
The Traditional Model of Preservation
Often, in an attempt to preserve an archaeological site rich with cultural heritage, well-meaning organizations build large and expensive museums or visitors’ centers, trying to attract tourism, protect the site, and display the site’s rich cultural heritage. The local community of the area is an afterthought. Unfortunately, time and time again this model has failed. Museums closed, visitors’ centers empty, the archaeological site, and, more importantly, its local community, are back in square one.
SPI’s Model of Preservation
SPI, on the other hand, seeks to preserve the world’s cultural heritage by creating or supporting locally-owned businesses whose success is tied to that preservation. It’s all connected: our grants provide transformative economic opportunities for local residents, while simultaneously saving archaeological sites for future generations to study and enjoy.
How did SPI get started?
SPI began with SPI Founder Larry Coben’s frustrations at Incallajta, the monumental Inca site in Bolivia where he was digging:
“The site was being used to grow crops, grazing, soccer games, and occasionally camping. No amount of pleading or talking about the importance of the site would change this dynamic. Finally, in consultation with the community, my co-director and I proposed putting up a gate across the one road to the site. We said charge Bolivians nothing to pass and foreigners $10. I agreed to pay for the gate (about $50). The goal was to see if we could change the dynamic of site use if the community saw that this alternative economic use was viable and arguably superior to the grazing, crop growing, etc.”
Did it work? In a word, YES.
“The community was skeptical that people would pay $10 to see the site, but since it was almost a 100 miles and a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest city, I figured anyone who had come that far would pay. We generated roughly $40 week on averageundefinedan amazing return on investment; but more importantly, in a very poor community (per capita annual income was probably $100-$200), the site’s economic potential changed the community’s attitude.”
This confirmed what Larry had always suspected: the local people weren’t oblivious to the importance of the site; rather, the need to earn a living and feed their families trumped their concern about cultural heritage.
“People can’t eat their history.”
Although well-meaning, the traditional methods of preservation by fixing stones, and the traditional methods of community engagement and education in archaeology, are inadequate both from a preservation and community development perspective.
“The focus needed to be people not stones,” Larry said.
After seeing this dynamic played out at various archaeological sites around the world, Larry searched for charities that were using this sustainable and scalable model. He found none. Thus, SPI was born.
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