I had a fascinating and, I might even say inspirational couple of hours yesterday visiting the Washington DC lab of the Veterans Curation Project. The VCP is the brainchild of the Corps of Engineers’ remarkable Sonny Trimble, and is currently funded with ARRA money, though a bill to give it permanent funding has passed the House and is – well, somewhere in the Senate.
The basic idea of the VCP is to train wounded veterans in the skills involved in artifact and archival curation – classification, catalogue-building, imaging, restoration of decaying documents, and so on – not with the necessary expectation that they’ll go into archaeology, museum studies, or historic preservation, but because the work teaches them things that are useful in a wide range of jobs, helps prepare them for higher education if that’s what they want, and (there’s some anecdotal evidence for this) may help overcome the effects of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PDSD). The group of veterans I visited were working with an old collection of both artifacts and records from Richard B. Russell Reservoir; they seemed to be engaged, focused, interested in the work, and having a relatively good time. They were articulate in discussing their work, and seemed to be handling it with great patience and aplomb. Their supervisors, Alexandra Jones and Amelia Chisholm of Brockington & Associates, which runs the program for the Corps, seemed to have things very much in hand and to be getting along fine with the troops. I was really impressed.
Working these days as a consultant to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), I hope we can find ways to build on the strengths of the VCP (which VA co-sponsors with the Corps) and relate it in a systemic way to the VA’s historic preservation program. And I hope other agencies, institutions, organizations and firms will look to the VCP as a source of highly trained, skilled, motivated and disciplined curators.