Bonnie McDonald, President and CEO of Landmarks Illinois
People’s Right to Place: Building a More Relevant and Just Preservation Movement
At its 50th anniversary, Landmarks Illinois embarked on an effort to explore its relevance and how to move preservation forward over its next 50 years, culminating in its seminal guiding principles. What the organization found is that preservationists across the nation are deeply questioning our practices and our movement’s future. Landmarks Illinois president & CEO Bonnie McDonald was awarded a 2020 James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation Mid-Career Fellowship to help bring the field’s challenges, and solutions, to the forefront through The Relevancy Project. Between 2019-2021, Bonnie McDonald spoke to 130 individuals, both within and outside of the preservation field, to explore these questions and bring forward people’s wisdom illuminating how change is possible. The project has evolved into a forward-looking effort to catalogue preservation’s issues, to make the case for its opportunities, to highlight creative solutions already being tried, and to instigate collective action toward change that will build a more relevant and just movement. History, culture and lifeways are a human and civil right and we must support people’s right to place. In 2022, McDonald published 11 blog posts exploring specific areas of preservation’s needed evolution and the final work, The Relevancy Guidebook, is forthcoming in 2023.
Bonnie McDonald aspires to shape preservation into a more relevant and just practice. As president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois (LI), Bonnie advances the vision, mission, and programs of Illinois’ only statewide preservation nonprofit organization. Her transformative thinking about preservation has led LI to focus its work on people and their important connection to historic places. She’s currently spearheading the organization’s evolution to enhance its relevance and to create a national model for justice, equity, inclusion and diversity in preservation practice. From 2018-2021, Bonnie served as board chair of the National Preservation Partners Network, the national nonprofit representing preservation organizations, and she is proud to have been awarded the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation Mid-Career Fellowship in 2020 to write a guidebook to relevancy in the preservation movement. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Bonnie co-chair of the Chicago Monuments Project in 2020 to help lead a truth and racial reckoning process in the city around problematic artworks. Bonnie received a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the University of Minnesota and a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University.
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This series is presented thanks in part to the generous support of the Louis B. Wetmore Endowment Fund, which provides resources to bring planning practitioners to our department where they interact with students and faculty.