BNHA BNHA Goes to Pittsburgh

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Workshop participants touring the historic Carrie Blast Furnaces located in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Photo Courtesy of NPS.

Last month, Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) staff ventured to the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area's historic Bost Building located in Homestead, PA, where they learned strategies on fostering constructive dialogue surrounding challenging pasts. Workshop attendees came from a variety of museums, heritage areas, national forests, and other institutions within the northeast region.

Hosted by Rivers of Steel in partnership with the National Park Service’s National Heritage Areas Program, the three-day professional development workshop focused on the theme “Facilitating Dialogue on Difficult Histories.” The workshop was led by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a worldwide network of historic sites, museums, and memorials that connect past struggles to today’s human rights movements.

“It is important for historic sites to host, convene, and facilitate dialogue on a wide range of subjects—including joyous things, but also hard, challenging, or painful history as well— because we have the ability to hold conversations that few others can,” said Braden Paynter, workshop facilitator and program manager from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. "If we don't slow down, engage in dialogue, and understand how other people have had different lived experiences and perspectives than our own, we are likely to unintentionally replicate aspects of the structures we are seeking to change."

Each day, attendees participated in break-out sessions, interactive exercises, and group discussions to gain a better understanding of effective tools for nurturing productive dialogue. The workshop explored facilitation techniques ranging from creating safe spaces and judgement-free environments to asking questions intended to build trust and authentic communication within a group.

BNHA jumped at the opportunity to attend the workshop so that the insights and strategies could be shared locally with heritage area partners and BNHA’s Urban Rangers—who regularly engage the public in dialogue while leading tours at historic Baltimore sites or along BNHA's heritage walking tours. The ability to facilitate dialogue in such a way that encourages reflection of preconceptions and experiences is a valuable skill that can prove to be beneficial in various situations.

“With the second grant cycle of our Neighborhood Placemaking Grant program quickly approaching, BNHA will have the unique opportunity to connect with Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods and facilitate a series of community meetings," said Megan McSwain, Interpretation and Outreach Manager at the Baltimore National Heritage Area. "I’m looking forward to implementing these tools and techniques back in Baltimore so we can encourage constructive dialogue where residents and stakeholders feel heard, understood, and empowered to make change within their neighborhoods.”