Alyssa Frystak is an Associate Director of Research and Data Analytics for PlaceEconomics. Earlier this year, Alyssa served on the jury for the 2020 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards. Prior to joining the Skyline Council of Landmarks Illinois, she also worked as an intern for Landmarks Illinois, helping with the annual preservation awards and Most Endangered programs. Learn more below about how that internship inspired her to stay involved with Landmarks Illinois and why preservation is important to her.
What is the best part of your job?
I love meeting people from all over the country and learning about what they are doing to preserve not only buildings, but also communities. I find their commitment and passion so inspiring! I also love data and mapping, which helps us connect and communicate the really amazing stories we hear on the ground with defensible facts and numbers. There’s nothing more satisfying than proving that preservation is a tool that’s doing a lot of good in our communities.
When and why did you become involved with Landmarks Illinois and join the Skyline Council?
I have been following LI’s works for years, but officially got involved as an intern during grad school in 2018, working on both the Most Endangered List and Driehaus Awards. After seeing how dedicated the organization is to preserving places all over Illinois, I knew that I would get involved in Skyline Council after finishing my degree.
Why is historic preservation important and what about it interests you?
For as long as I can remember, I have had a hunger to learn about history by experiencing a place. That visceral feeling you get when an old building, a historic landscape or a simple plaque connects you to something…the past, a different culture, an ancestor…is like no other. Preservation enables these types of connections, serving as a catalyst through which we can expand our understanding, helping create a more tolerant, inclusive and equitable society.
What is one thing about historic preservation you would tell another young professional to spark their interest?
People are always surprised to find out that beneath the cute stretch of shops they frequent is a thriving Main Street program, or that the coolest hotel that they’ve ever stayed in was a historic tax credit project. Seeing people realize that a lot of the places they love exist today because of preservation is like watching a lightbulb go off – and I love it! So, I guess I’d tell them, historic preservation is happening all around you, even if you can’t see it.
What impact do you think young professionals like yourself will have on the future of historic preservation?
I feel as though young professionals have the opportunity to shift the focus of preservation. For years, the field has centered on buildings that communicate a one-sided story. However, I think that our generation has demonstrated a commitment to discovering new, more inclusive narratives – ones that have long been overlooked by the mainstream movement. Bringing equity to the stories we tell and enabling diverse communities to find their voice is an important responsibility of our generation.
What do you do to support and advocate for preservation either in your professional or personal life? (or both!)
The reports we produce at PlaceEconomics are, at their core, advocacy tools for our clients. Whether they are being used to educate members of city council about preservation’s role in their community or to demonstrate why a state legislature should increase their annual Historic Tax Credit funding cap, our work is always advocating for building and heritage conservation. Apart from my job, I’m also an avid “Heritage Tourist,” always seeing out places where I can immerse myself in history through place.
What do you do in your free time?
I can often be found exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods, shopping at antique malls and vintage stores, visiting museum and historic sites, undertaking DIY projects (sometimes unsuccessfully) and binging Netflix with my cat.