Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: A Fresh Look at Preservation through Collaboration



Preservation relies on the reconciliation of historical landscapes within a modern urban environment in flux. Such was the focus of a recent course offered by the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in collaboration with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. The popular course examined preservation as a product of both people and place, introducing its twenty participants to people and organizations behind Twin Cities preservation and visiting current projects spanning the commercial, industrial, and residential scales.


The concept of the course, says Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning (OLLI) Course Development Team member Marghe Tabar, arose from an “intrinsic motivation” to teach and learn about Twin Cities architectural preservation. The Osher Institute, now an affiliate program of the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies, was conceived as a “health club for the mind,” and was originally founded in 1995 as the Elder Learning Institute before joining the national OLLI network in 2004. With over one hundred OLLI organizations throughout the United States and twelve hundred members in Minnesota, the institute provides older adults with unique educational opportunities carefully crafted by a curriculum committee. Tabar says that people were “enthused” about a course dedicated to old buildings and the restoration process: a collaboration with the Preservation Alliance seemed like a “good fit.” OLLI brought ideas to the table and the Preservation Alliance, under the leadership of Education Coordinator Natalie Heneghan, brought these ideas to fruition.


The concept of the course, says Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning (OLLI) Course Development Team member Marghe Tabar, arose from an “intrinsic motivation” to teach and learn about Twin Cities architectural preservation.



Healy Block

Through collaboration, OLLI and the Preservation Alliance created course material that delved into multiple facets of preservation, ranging from panel discussions to site visits of recent renovation projects to walking tours. Following an introductory lecture from Erin Hanafin Berg, the Director of Outreach and Policy at the Preservation Alliance orienting participants to the field of historic preservation, class sessions were often held in situ, granting participants exclusive views of restoration projects, such as Irvine Park’s Wright-Prendergast House.


“Preservation issues are ongoing and of varied topics and, therefore, should allow us to continue to present thoughtful, informative programs with great tours,” said former student Nancy Tracy.



Irvine Park

Other classes included tours of projects such as the T. P. Healy block and Warehouse District in Minneapolis, the Historic C & E Block, and the Schmidt Artist Lofts in Saint Paul. Other sessions focused on the underlying methodologies behind historic preservation, including research-guided restoration, operating historic buildings under economic and human pressures, preservation advocacy, and historic preservation planning. A group lunch following each class provided space for lively discussions among participants and instructors about pressing topics in Twin Cities preservation.



View from Schmidt Artist Lofts

Investigating preservation as a synthesis of historical and contemporary contexts has resulted in discussions about future iterations of the course, including multiple course offerings, different site visits and instructors, or a “Historic Preservation 2.0” course. Participants were enthusiastic about the variety course material, especially the walking tour portions and the lunch following each class. “Preservation issues are ongoing and of varied topics and, therefore, should allow us to continue to present thoughtful, informative programs with great tours,” said former student Nancy Tracy. Indeed, the course’s waiting list, along with its introduction of OLLI members to the Preservation Alliance, are proof of a desire not to learn about the architectural preservation of the Twin Cities in a vacuum, but rather understand it in real time by situating preservation within spaces occupied by the present and the future.

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