European Heritage Youth Ambassadors look back on 2021

The European Heritage Youth Ambassadors programme (Written by Héctor and Elena)

The European Heritage Youth Ambassadors (EYHA) programme was born at the end of January 2021, by the hands of Europa Nostra (EN), European Students’ Association for Cultural Heritage (ESACH) and the European Heritage Tribune (EHT). As a result of this innovative proposal, the eleven selected candidates had an opportunity to contribute at an international level within the world of cultural heritage.

The inaugural event of the programme took place online. All three organisations were present and signed a memorandum of cooperation. Afterwards, Ambassadors were given the chance to introduce themselves and their culture, in an attempt to underline the need to bridge cultures and involve young professionals in the process.

The inaugural event

Among them, a large number of countries are covered, highlighting their respective cultures, languages and traditions: Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain and Turkey. Likewise, all the Ambassadors bring together expertise in diverse areas such as art history, archaeology, architecture, digital humanities, heritage-led sustainable development, gastronomic heritage, heritage for peace building and heritage in international organisations. This highly interdisciplinary environment has fostered a great opportunity for knowledge exchange, which further represented a push forward in the careers of the Ambassadors.

As it was the inaugural year of the programme, there was great liberty for the young professionals to shape the priorities of the programme themselves. Indeed, the first coordinated action was a spontaneous call coming from them to talk about the coffee culture across Europe on social media.

Most certainly the programme has brought plenty of opportunities for the participants to open a dialogue on themes which are important to them, thereby contributing to bridging the gap between generations of professionals in the field. They were able to do so by authoring articles, individually or collectively; by designing social media campaigns on different themes; or by attending various events, such as the ESACH Meeting in Madrid in June or the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice in September.

The result is undoubtedly an exemplary and unique first group of young experts, ready to embark on the adventure of representing the voices of new professionals, providing greater visibility to future generations within the framework of today’s cultural heritage. Most importantly though, is perhaps the sense of community which was created thanks to this program, which has greatly contributed to widening the network of heritage professionals in Europe.

Monthly meetings (Written by Hana and Levent)

Since January 2021, ten (nine online, one hybrid) monthly meetings have been organized within the framework of the EHYA. As one of the key activities of the program, monthly meetings have been instrumental to exchange a range of ideas and news related to heritage in general as well as about ambassadors themselves. During each session, while ambassadors had a chance to interact with each other as well as the representatives from each partner organization (EN, EHT, and ESACH), they discussed and planned both online and in-person actions.

Overall, the meetings were fruitful in terms of understanding different approaches and opinions towards heritage in addition to displaying various cultural and natural heritage-related initiatives from each country represented by the Ambassadors. Monthly meetings were also a place of connection, a time and place (virtually) to get together, reflect on past and future projects and initiatives. It was important to have these meetings once a month in order to feel connected and chat about the Ambassadors’ individual work and have a discussion and exchange. During this year, it has been wonderful to be able to communicate with so many people from different places and have this kind of monthly check up. In the end, all this was certainly promoting the collective responsibility of safeguarding our shared heritage for the current and future generations.

One of the monthly meetings

Events (Written by Jelena and Pravali)

Throughout the EHYA programme, the Ambassadors had diverse and rich opportunities to engage and participate in many events. They had a chance to be speakers at ESACH Talks; to assist with organizing the ESACH Meeting in Madrid in June; to attend, witness and be the foundation of a new pilot project “Cultural Heritage on Erasmus”; and also to take part in the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice in September.

Each event provided a different and exciting opportunity for the Ambassadors to interact with the heritage sector, and find new roles for their own engagement.   The  most memorable and thrilling of these experiences was perhaps attending the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice in September. The Ambassadors did not only attend the Summit, but they participated in the European Heritage Policy Agora discussions and announced the four Grand Prix laureates of the 2021 European Heritage Awards. As part of such activities, the Ambassadors contributed their thoughts and experiences to the ongoing heritage discourse, and at the same time they represented the youth perspective at the Summit.

In the words of Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, “We often talk about young people as the future of heritage, or the future of Europe, but in fact they are the present.” Hence, the Ambassadors’ voices at Agora were a statement that youth involvement for heritage and Europe’s future begins not tomorrow, but today. Furthermore, this occasion was made special not only by the innovative, forward-looking and inspiring ideas that were shared, but also by being the first in-person meeting of the Ambassadors.

The Ambassadors participating in the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice

Apart from participating at different events, the Ambassadors also took the lead in creating events and online participatory happenings.

One such event co-organized and co-convened by one of the Ambassador was Climate Heritage Narratives: Youth-Led Intergenerational Dialogues, a series of dialogues that took place between 27 September and 4 October, which enabled intergenerational exchanges between youth, emerging professionals and experts engaged in cultural heritage and climate change. The series was organized under the framework of Pre-COP 26, hosted by Italy, and addressed themes such as Sustainable Heritage Tourism, Traditional Knowledge and Skills, and Transformative Change . The outcomes of the series were consolidated into youth recommendations on Climate-heritage action, presented at the Annual General Assembly of the Climate Heritage Network, which took place during COP26, Glasgow; and which also elected Europa Nostra as the regional Co-Chair the same day.

The event perfectly marked Europa Nostra’s continued commitment to climate action and to youth, as CHN launched its Youth Forum on the COP26 Youth Day, which will continue to engage new voices in the field.

Both through event participation and creation, the Ambassadors managed to implement their passion, knowledge and skills in order to enrich and ease a difficult year of pandemic that impacted everyone in the heritage sector and beyond.

Social media (Written by Anna)

Social media campaigns became the primary tool to engage the very diverse Ambassadors networks. Ambassadors were active on popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin. Weekly educational campaigns on the significance of tangible and intangible heritage were received with great enthusiasm and curiosity. In March a campaign to celebrate the richness of coffee culture was launched. Posts and stories highlighted the many different cultural traditions surrounding coffee in the countries that the Ambassadors represent. Another successful heritage campaign consisted of Ambassadors sharing stories of museums on the International Museum Day in May. This not only represented a way in which Ambassadors engaged with the institutions in their own cities, but it was also an occasion to draw connections between museums all over Europe. Seasonal posts on social media where Ambassadors celebrated heritage by linking it to festivities such as Easter or Halloween showed that heritage is truly part of everyday life.

Social media campaign on coffee culture

Lessons learned (Written by Giovanni and Antigoni)

Despite the difficult Covid-19 period, the Ambassadors have managed to create a strong bond, not only among themselves but also among their cultures. From coffee culture to the EN Cultural Heritage summit at Venice, they all worked with the aim of safeguarding the natural and cultural heritage of Europe. A great part of their work involved public engagement and especially in their local communities. The Ambassadors served as a voice of cultural heritage and EN in particular; at the same time, EN gave them a stage to express and exchange ideas and recommendations to important policymakers and stakeholders.

The Ambassadors were a diverse group, yet they held common values such as acceptance, teamwork, and creativity. Thus, they always had an easy rapport in discussions on the setting of goals, common presentations and social media campaigns.

The team will be enriched by new members ready to bring fresh ideas and build on the foundation the first generation of Ambassadors has established. As 2022 will be the European Year of Youth,  the Ambassadors will have further opportunities to develop in the sector of heritage but at the same time more responsibilities towards their communities and especially the youth of Europe. The first generation of Ambassadors remain dedicated to EN and European values, while the new generation will join. The network will continue to grow, be more cohesive and act for the benefit of European heritage and culture.

(Edited by Jen)