Sustainability, Authenticity, Awareness, Access: Cultural Heritage and Beyond

The activities surrounding this year’s European Day of Conservation-Restoration seek to highlight key themes in the preservation of cultural heritage: sustainability, authenticity, awareness, and access.

These are not only important in preservation, but also resonate with the core tenets of an informed and participatory society. This blog will touch on how applying these themes through cultural heritage can have a greater reach, building on shared values to create connected and informed communities.

 

Sustainability

The topic of sustainability is far-reaching, and it must be. As we are well aware through the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating a sustainable framework within all elements of global development is key to securing a brighter future for humanity.

Conservators in archives, museums, libraries and beyond work to ensure that primary sources of our heritage are sustained for future generations of study.

They make it possible for society at large to experience, value and share these elements of their culture.  As the British Council states in their 2018 report, Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth:

When people engage with, learn from, value and promote their cultural heritage, it can contribute to both social and economic development. An inclusive way of working, that engages individuals and communities in their heritage, and supports institutions and nations to effect positive change for all levels of society, can lead to economic growth and better social welfare. Heritage in this way can be a source of sustainability, a way to embed growth in the fabric of society and to celebrate the past in today’s evolving world.

 Finding methods through which all individuals see themselves reflected in society and invited to take part, through media, accessible spaces and participatory policy, is a contributor to the sustainable development of connected communities

 

Authenticity

 How valuable is the knowledge that our physical cultural heritage is authentic? The Nara Document on Authenticity states:

In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalization and homogenization, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of the cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.

Authenticity is about accurate representation, and determining it requires the skills of careful reading and critical thinking. Identifying authenticity in the information and media we consume is among the defining themes of our times.

Teaching how to value and determine authenticity, within cultural heritage and beyond, trains the skills required to think critically about the information we consume.

 

Awareness

Participatory societies are informed societies. Individuals and communities can best engage with, learn from, value and promote their cultural heritage when they are invited to do so.

Days like the European Day of Conservation-Restoration help to raise awareness of the work being done in what might otherwise be considered closed-off spaces. Awareness of one another’s cultural values through heritage helps build mutual respect and understanding.

Advocacy is important! Find ways to share the work you’re doing in a way that resonates with people. Tell stories and invite conversation. Awareness-raising of the value of services and spaces which build connected, informed societies helps ensure that they remain available for generations to come.

 

Access

Closely tied to raising awareness is ensuring that there are mechanisms in place to connect people with their heritage. Inclusive representation of cultures connects communities to their past and to one another.

In broader terms, access to information is a central tenet of democracy.  Suppressing information, in the same way as suppressing culture, limits the right to think, act and express oneself freely.

Access also means building accessible spaces which invite all individuals to take part in culture, governance and civil society – despite language, ability, identity, age and gender. This reaches far beyond access to cultural heritage.

However, connecting people to their heritage can be part of a broader aim to uphold the freedom of expression and access to information that is at the heart of an informed democratic society.

 

Cultural heritage can allow for greater engagement with the public sphere. Institutions which conserve heritage, provide opportunities to learn about it, and allow conversations to grow around it can be models of an inclusive approach to engagement on a societal level.

How do you build on these values in your area of the profession?

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