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May 13, 2009

Former ICCROM Director writes about Life Beyond Tourism

Life Beyond Tourism
by Marc Laenen – Former ICCROM General Director


“Life beyond tourism” is a brilliant initiative responding to a crucial role for cultural heritage care and work in development: ”opening it up” for society after decades of conservation theory and practice. In UNESCO, ICCROM, ICOMOS, ICOM, CIA and other international organizations conservation of cultural heritage has been strongly promoted and framed in development policies and strategies. Working methods and interdisciplinary partnerships have been investigated, tested, refined and disseminated in charters, recommendations and guidelines, in manuals and other publications and training programs.

The next question however is how cultural heritage can be embedded or integrated in social and spatial development, how cultural heritage can become raw material for development of cultural landscapes, urban and rural social and spatial fabric, how its experience by the local population and their visitors, the tourists, can be sustained and how its conservation can be ensured trough development. Life beyond tourism offers an important instrument for such objectives.

Towards integral and integrated value based heritage work: a basis for “opening up” cultural heritage in social development and planning. The theoretical references.

Cultural heritage has been used to underscore cultural identity of societies and to enhance their cultural specificity in a culturally and economically globalizing world. One of the motives behind  the promotion of cultural diversity is that mankind needs more than one mirror to recognize itself. Whereas in Romanticism such conservation has been idealized and “museifyed”, today conservation is being interpreted as a dynamic social process aiming at the creative and specific continuity of  heritage values of societies and their environment, a shared responsibility off all. Its conservation offers at the same time an environment of human scale responding to human and humane perceptions, conditions and expectations.
However cultural heritage conservation and the enhancement of cultural diversity needs framing in a more general development policy and should be proved as being instrumental for quality of life and well being of individuals and societies in their living environment as, among others, the UNDP programmes pointed out in the seventies of last century. These development policies are based on an interculturally accepted image of mankind and the recognition that not all existing cultural patterns and living cultural heritage correspond to this vision and still have a way to go, which is not adopted by all communities. Certainly not in an era in which a rather strict conservative interpretation of heritage care is considered as a right of heritage communities.

The interpretations of the notion heritage has changed over time: It developed from the elitist to the vernacular, from the remote past to recent past and from the tangible to the intangible. In fact local population makes no analytical, administrative nor intellectual distinction in their heritage experience. They experience their heritage as a holistic issue because the intrinsic relationship between all heritage expressions and their coherent anchoring in their immediate living environment. In fact cultural landscapes, townscapes and rural areas are context of heritage and heritage at the same time, object of development and subject to decisions. We inherit these cultural environments and have the responsibility to manage them with care for today and for those who come after us. Distinction between heritage sectors is only made in governmental administrative systems and in educational or tourist programmes. This leads to the option that heritage work should be managed in environmental context, that all heritage sectors should be considered together in regional or local development and that all relevant institutions and organizations (museums, institutes of immovable cultural heritage and those dealing with intangible heritage) are invited to work structurally together while opening up heritage for the local (heritage) communities ( = integral approach).

The essence and at the same the substance of cultural heritage are heritage values and their significance for heritage communities in society. Development and decisions are to be based on a general humanistic morale and commitment for the betterment of society and environment. Furthermore is the (creative) renovation and recalibrating of heritage values a key issue for the continuity of the genius loci, the specific character of the place and more generally for the enhancement of cultural diversity. It boils down to the reinterpretation of these values and to giving them a new relevant significance for us today and to their integration with other sectors in development: economy (tourism), cultural development, natural environment, education, well being, and above all planning. (= integrated approach).

Opening up cultural heritage for society and environment means its sustainable experience for the local population and for their visitors by linking it structurally with physical environment, economy, cultural development, social development, education etc. Integral and integrated approaches can be instrumental to reach these objectives.

Substantive tourism

Tourism has an important potential to convey substantive information about cultural heritage to target audiences (… click here to read more …)

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