Linda Donavan Harper, currently the chairwoman of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, will take over the reins of Cultural Tourism D.C. at the beginning of July.
As the new executive director of Cultural Tourism D.C., which is a conglomeration of more than 185 organizations dedicated to promoting the District of Columbia’s heritage, one of Harper’s main goals will be to promote culture as an economic tool by capitalizing on the vibrancy that it brings to communities. “That vibrancy brings new people, new activities and new dollars into a site,” she said.
In her 20 years living in the Washington area, Harper said she has seen this link between culture and economics manifest itself several times in areas such as the U Street corridor, which was described last year by The New York Times as a place “where you’ll hear the pulsing beat of urban nightlife.”
From the end of its heyday some 40 years ago until the early 1990s, this neighborhood was virtually dormant, but with the renovation of cultural sites such as the Lincoln Theatre, which reopened in ’94, and the opening of many galleries, it is now a popular destination.
Similar transformations have occurred in Adams Morgan and Shaw, and in both instances culture has driven their economies. Harper said Cultural Tourism D.C. played a key role in breathing life into the Shaw and U Street communities using a model she hopes to duplicate in the future.
“They really worked closely with the neighborhood to identify the assets of the neighborhood and begin to be able to package and market those,” she said.
She feels that this “packaging” is one of the main roles of the organization, which does not manage but instead consults with its member organizations to try to help them reach target audiences.
In doing so, she will need to balance the preservation of the rich culture of the past with the creation of new opportunities for the future.
“There’s certainly a preservation ethic that underlies this position, but I think it’s not just preservation. It’s preservation and art and culture and how all those things blend to form what we think of as the District,” she said. “I think there will be times when each of those components [leads], but overall it’s an integrated process.”
The position that Harper is filling opened up after Angela Fox stepped down from her role as executive director of Cultural Tourism D.C. last July and took an identical position at the Crystal City Business Improvement District in Virginia. Carma Fauntleroy, an independent consultant who specializes in the transition management of cultural organizations, has served as interim director since then.
Harper was selected for the position after a search committee headed by Cultural Tourism D.C. trustee Fran Trachtenberg zeroed in on her. Trachtenberg said she is happy with the selection of Harper, who “comes with a strong commitment to the economic development of Washington through the use of artistic, historic and heritage organizations.”
When she moves into her new position, Harper will step down from her role as chairwoman of the Congressional Cemetery association, an unpaid job, but will stay on as a member of the board. She also will transition out of LHarper & Associates, a consulting firm that she started. Harper will finish her work with current clients there but will not take any new ones.
During her first days in office, she plans to meet with representatives from all of the member organizations, which will help her decide what specific plans she will pursue.
“I need to get my feet under me to make some of those determinations,” she said.