When urban heritage locations have to be preserved there are usually three possible paths forward. The first simply requires the local government to take charge of the site and maintain it through public funds. In this case, the site could be preserved as a museum which allows the public to view it in its pristine form and function.
The second path involves a wealthy philanthropist adopting and subsidizing the site and preserving it as a museum or weaving in a vibrant and relevant activity that has a commercial logic. The Frick Collection museum in New York City is a great example of this option.
The third and final path, and a relatively unexplored one, is when citizens come together and ‘crowdsource’ funds and competencies to maintain the location.
The third path, which has recently been facilitated through digital and social media is, in my opinion, the most exciting. This is because it empowers local citizens and gives them a sense of control over the destiny of their city and the preservation of its history. That sense of empowerment also makes it more feasible to build in a contemporary, commercial activity because the interest and attendance of the public is more likely in this situation.
However, the new commercial activity cannot simply mimic the past. After all, the past activity’s irrelevance is what probably led to the decline of the venue. Hence one has to search for the core of what the venue stood for, and attempt to resurrect it in a contemporary avatar.
In the case of Rhythm House, its core purpose was to disseminate the joy of music. That purpose does not require that the new avatar should simply sell CDs instead of records. It means that the experience of music is what people should still enjoy in the venue.
If we get the opportunity to preserve the location, we will attempt to curate the right experiences that will draw people to it and through doing so, also preserve the music-loving community that Rhythm House had built.
As told to Sanjukta Sharma.