The Mannequin in the Attic

In the very first Harry Pot­ter movie a wiz­ard named Hagrid intro­duces young Harry to Diagon Alley, an alter­nate world that mug­gles or non-wizards are not even aware of. In St. Augus­tine, tucked behind shops sell­ing sou­venir trin­kets, the size­able Span­ish Quar­ter is sim­i­lar to Diagon Alley, because the tourists don’t know it’s there. We hide­away our iden­tity and her­itage when it should be show­cased for all to see, and it’s going to take more than a larger-than-life wiz­ard to reveal the rich­ness of our Span­ish Quar­ter or a magic spell to save it.

Instead of clos­ing the Span­ish Quar­ter Museum entirely, com­pro­mise and scale back its hours of oper­a­tion. Have the museum closed for one or two days a week, when less foot traf­fic is down­town, on Mon­days and Tues­days for instance. Or close it for weeks at a time dur­ing the slower weeks of the year.

Look for ideas from other his­toric loca­tions. Look to Colo­nial Williams­burg and Jamestown in Vir­ginia, look to Boston and Salem in Mass­a­chu­setts, but what­ever hap­pens don’t go look­ing for more retail space. To save an inter­ac­tive pic­turesque edu­ca­tional com­po­nent on St. George Street more cre­ativ­ity is needed.

Open up the Quar­ter visu­ally by remov­ing a few walls and replac­ing them with see-through fences, so that vis­i­tors can actu­ally see, from a dis­tance, what the Span­ish Quar­ter is all about. Have tal­ented, well trained, 18th cen­tury cos­tumed actors per­form impromptu skits on the Streets and the Plaza and actu­ally inter­act with tourists.  Get a cos­tumed town crier go out into the Plaza and shout out the news of the day or per­sonal mes­sages from recent Span­ish Quar­ter vis­i­tors. Cre­ate a buzz; make it enter­tain­ing in the streets, while keep­ing it edu­ca­tional and authen­tic inside the Quarter.

Is it even pos­si­ble to enter­tain in the streets of St. Augus­tine any­more? The local mer­chants put an end to street enter­tain­ment because the human inter­ac­tion of musi­cians or cos­tumed street per­form­ers could pos­si­bly inter­fere with the sale of every­thing from t-shirts to shot glasses. Why have vis­i­tors actu­ally expe­ri­ence St. Augus­tine, when it can be sold to them?

In a few hun­dred years, per­haps there will be an Amer­i­can Quar­ter Museum that will attempt to explain the cur­rent belief that our his­tory, her­itage and cul­ture is some­how depen­dent on profit, as edu­ca­tion at all lev­els con­tin­ues to get shoved aside. But for now the man­nequin in the attic (from the pre­vi­ous post) says a lot.

Save the Span­ish Quarter.

 

3 Comments

  • I love your ideas and agree that the Quar­ter needs more mar­ket­ing and vis­i­bil­ity. We can’t be a “her­itage tourism” des­ti­na­tion if the only cel­e­bra­tion of our her­itage is tee shirt shops and ghost tours.

  • Thanks for the com­ment, and your Word Press advice.

  • Nicely said. The Colo­nial Span­ish Quar­ter is one of St Augustine’s best attrac­tions and should NOT be allowed to fall through the cracks.

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