Cultural tourists want authentic experiences
Buffalo’s African-American Heritage Corridor deserves to have its remarkable history told authentically, where visitors can reflectively and imaginatively engage in the exceptional stories represented on the 2.4-mile passage. An archway, life-size cutouts and other clutter assault the senses, leaving the stories to be told competing in a circus atmosphere.
In 2009, Buffalo hosted the Connecting to Collections conference, which underscored how cultural tourists want authentic, nonstaged experiences when visiting historic sites. Cultural interpretation need not be so literal. Resources going into the arch and cutouts would be better spent in restoring the remaining structures.
Please allow tourists to connect to the collections of structures that represent the extraordinary history of freedom, abolition, civil rights, jazz, poetry, industry and work. Cultural tourism does not need to be a mess of sensory overload but it does need careful preservation, curation and attention given to aesthetics. Perhaps there are examples and cultural stewards we can consult to help in creating a streetscape that both attracts and educates?
As Buffalo artist Virginia Tillou plaintively asked in 1976 during the Fort Makowski controversy: When will Buffalo learn that what the city needs is “simplicity, taste and restraint”? Forty-one years later, the question remains unanswered, leaving our opportunities for cultural tourism in peril.