Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks

“It’s about the present and the future, not the past.”  —Marsh Davis


How are you connected to HUNI?  What types of issues do you see as relevant for HUNI?

As a resident over time of three HUNI neighborhoods, the connections are deep.  HUNI has taken on a life of its own, but I am glad that the connection to Indiana Landmarks remains solid.  One of the biggest issues facing HUNI relates to Mayor Ballard’s push to get more professional, even affluent, residents to live in our urban neighborhoods.  The places represented by HUNI are ideal starting points.  There should be a concerted effort from the Mayor’s office, MIBOR, and HUNI to recruit new residents to HUNI neighborhoods, and to develop programs to attract new residents to look closely at the virtues of our historic neighborhoods rather than being carted off to the suburbs.  HUNI is critical to sustaining and growing a healthy urban population and to protecting the historic character of our neighborhoods, without which there would be diminished investment.

What are some current issues impacting the field of historic preservation & restoration, particularly within the state of Indiana?

Historic Preservation, while we have made great strides, is still not widely understood and embraced.  Many of my long-term friends—and these are college-educated professional people—think I work for some sort of governmental regulatory agency.  The regulatory side of preservation, important indeed, has been over-emphasized, or at least not balanced in the public’s eye.  One case out of a thousand may be problematic at the local commission and the bloggers, politicians, and media have a field day, and we preservationists often end up being tagged as the stinkers.  Never mind all of the good works that have led to revitalization and improvement and jobs, etc.

That level of misunderstanding stymies us at the Statehouse, too, as we push reforms to Indiana’s failed Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit—a potentially great incentive to quicken the pace of revitalization of our historic communities.

How do you represent preservation and restoration issues for the local community of Indianapolis, statewide for Indiana, and nationwide for the rest of the United States?

I try to stress at all levels that historic preservation is a force for positive change, not a regulatory burden for keeping things the same.  We, as a movement, have much work to do on our image and perception in the general public.

I love the creative potential that we in the non-profit world hold, and I try to be true to Indiana Landmarks’ origins as an intentional, positive organization.

Is there a difference within the field along the urban to rural continuum? 

Yes, and we have to respect different perspectives (religious, cultural, esthetic) and try to find the common denominators rather than the differences, using a respect for heritage and meaningful places as the motivating force.

What is the favorite part of your job? What is the least favorite part of our job (if you care to mention....)?

I genuinely enjoy the people I am privileged to meet and work with, at all levels.  Preservation attracts all kinds, and that adds much to the gratification of the day-to-day work.  I’ll skip the least favorite: I am fortunate to work for such an outstanding organization and have no complaints.  I do, though, wish I had more time to deal with the wide variety and volume of issues and projects we face daily.

What is your professional background?  How did this prepare you for becoming President of Indiana Landmarks?

My early professional years overlapped with time as an intern.  Doing yeoman work in the field and persevering while learning a genuine appreciation for the human element in historic preservation certainly helped.  My experience (2002-2006) as executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation was invaluable.  It is a large, multi-faceted organization, and it was hard work.  I would not trade that for anything.

What is your educational background and how did this prepare you for your current position as President of Indiana Landmarks?

I studied history at Butler (B.A.) and had some outstanding professors who laid a good foundation for a budding interest in historic architecture.  After graduate school I studied photography in New York, briefly, in order to learn how to use large-format cameras for architectural photography which had come to hold great interest.  Then it was on to Ball State for an M.S. in historic preservation through the College of Architecture and Planning.  Again, some wonderful mentors.  But it was my internship with (then) Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana that proved most useful, offering invaluable relationships and real-world experience.

What are some imparting words of wisdom for working and/or volunteering in this field? 

It’s about the present and the future, not the past.  We try to save and sustain old things, but not the past.  That, and a respect for diversity of opinion—including those who don’t see historic preservation as a moral imperative—will go a long way toward a gratifying experience.  And for volunteers, it should be fun and genuinely rewarding.  I tell Indiana Landmarks’ volunteers that they are, in many cases, the face of our organization and of historic preservation in general.  Historic Preservation has always been led by volunteers, and that is no exception today.

Any last thoughts or comments for the HUNI website article? 

Keep at it.  You are not only relevant to our City’s future, you are critical to its success as a livable place.

Marsh became President of Indiana Landmarks in 2006. This electronic interview took place on April 14, 2014.