Chicago Stewardship Excellence Awards

Cassandra Francis on the Value of Stewardship

Cassandra J. Francis accepts The Cultural Landscape Foundation's 2015 Stewardship Excellence Award
Cassandra J. Francis accepts The Cultural Landscape Foundation's 2015 Stewardship Excellence Award - Photo by Matthew Traucht, 2015


Editor's Note: The following is the acceptance speech delivered by Cassandra J. Francis at the Arts Club of Chicago on November 6, 2015. Ms. Francis, the former President & CEO of Friends of the Parks who spearheaded the effort to prevent the confiscation of Olmsted-designed parkland in Chicago for the Obama Presidential Library, was one of two recipients of The Cultural Landscape Foundation's 2015 Stewardship Excellence Award. The other honoree was the late Peter Lindsay Schaudt, a landscape architect and former TCLF Board Member; Schaudt's widow Janet accepted on his behalf.

Thank you. This award, and to have been involved in such an important issue celebrating our cultural landscape resources, has been a great personal honor for me.

In order to be effective in the stewardship environment, you really need friends, and friends of all sorts.  I relied heavily on my bewilderingly supportive husband and my friends, a number of whom are here today, so I thank you all for your support and counseling.

But importantly, I could not have been as effective or as constant an advocate without the support and encouragement provided by The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and specifically, my dear friends Charles Birnbaum and Nord Wennerstrom. 

While we met in person yesterday for the first time, they engaged me early in the presidential library site selection process to help with their resourceful and skillful guidance and reinforcement. They made themselves available when needed and they were a bright light in an otherwise dim tunnel. I am particularly indebted for their gifts of vision and eloquent language to express the importance of our cultural landscape assets.

Let’s face it- stewardship is a tough business, as all of you know from personal experience. And these are complicated issues with many perspectives, and often, the concept of compromise does not always work when trying to sustain and celebrate cultural and legacy assets. Stewardship conflicts are typically local in nature, and quickly become skirmishes where everyone takes sides -- or you hope they take sides, as opposed to general apathy, which is too often the case. 

The Cultural Landscape Foundation:

    • Helped me create national awareness and support, brandishing their outstanding communications skills and relationships with the press to get ink and support for our issue;
    • Helped me keep a broader perspective and strategy at the 45,000-foot level, when it was very difficult to do so; and
    • They helped me within my own organization, lending credibility and urgency to the cause.

While I try not to be cynical that everything is driven by politics, money, greed, and ego, it sometimes seems to be increasingly the case. This means our legacy and natural open spaces will continue to be threatened and must be saved for their cultural landscape heritage, their significant geographic and environmental features, and as rare open spaces that will become increasingly valuable as they continue to disappear under the guise of growth and progress. 

While we need to encourage and support efforts at creating our nation’s NEW cultural landscapes, I look forward to working with the Cultural Landscape Foundation:

     • To make our cultural landscapes more relevant to more people during a time of growing apathy;
     • To attract and engage more supporters with specific skill sets - like yourselves - that can help build capacity in organizations at the local level and help get ahead of the exploitation of our legacy assets so we’re not always in crisis mode;
     • To encourage our politicians, officials, and a growing list of high-net-worth individuals looking for personal commemoration (in the case of certain recent museums, monuments and mausolea) to work harder to do the right thing and to think ahead - in long-term generational cycles, not election cycles - to celebrate existing and to create NEW cultural landscapes and open spaces to enrich our quality of life;
    • And finally, to strengthen the public trust doctrine, which I believe is one of the most important ways that we can protect our cultural legacy assets in the future.

We must find a way to balance this necessary and inevitable growth and the stewardship of our important assets upon which our civilization is built. We must not allow our national cultural landscape resources and open spaces to be confiscated and perceived as “free land”, as the easy route or less-impact solution.

I thank the Cultural Landscape Foundation for this honor and for their inspiration, fellowship, and leadership in protecting our legacy of cultural landscapes. Thank you.

Cassandra J. Francis
November 6, 2015