Council of Europe foresees a need for new policies on Cultural Heritage

Member states need to develop a new understanding of cultural heritage as a strategic element to help address global challenges

Turin hosted the most recent assembly of the Committee of Ministers. Image: Ladiras (Canva)

During its annual session held in Turin, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation on the role of culture, cultural heritage and landscape in helping to address global challenges (Turin, 20.05.2022).

The Recommendation affirms culture’s transformative role in sustainable development and calls for the full recognition and integration of culture into relevant policies. It identifies the assets and skills of cultural stakeholders that should be mobilised to help address current challenges.

The Recommendation also calls for a new understanding of culture – and hence policies – as a strategic element and proposes various policy objectives and measures aimed at fostering a local approach (to engage with people and communities) as well as a global approach (to encourage international collaboration) in order to generate a collective ambition and international cooperation based on empathy and solidarity.

New understandings

The Council of Europe recently acknowledge the importance of cultural heritage and the role it can play to address global issues. The official recommendation of The Committee of Ministers of the European member states mentions culture, cultural heritage and landscapes as elements that can be used to create better policy and practical approaches to sustainability, strengthening democracy and involving youth. What do these recommendations mean for cultural heritage?

Three themes where cultural heritage should become more involved, stand out in the recommendation: helping with current issues, contributing to the future of Europe and protecting the cultural (heritage) sector itself.

The Committee thinks that these views should be paired with a new understanding of cultural, cultural heritage and landscape resources. Viewing them as “strategic elements” to help address global challenges and as drivers of social transformation, with the aim of creating an open and diverse cultural space and a safe and sustainable environment, accessible to all, as a basis for democratic societies.” How the thirteen recommendations will be implemented into practice, is not yet clear, but there are some conclusions to take from the document.

Current issues

As the world is facing multiple global crises at the moment, from climate change to a lack of trust in democracy, cultural heritage could play an important role in solving these problems. For example, culture and heritage have the ability to act as an accelerator in changing behaviour by developing cultural empathy, trust and solidarity among people.

Therefore, organisations, artists and other makers in the sector should focus their efforts on supporting and promoting the EU’s sustainable development goals, the Committee writes. This can be done by encouraging owners to make their heritage buildings more energy-efficient and urging more public and private investments into the sector. As the sector is already looking into problems such as making heritage sustainable, more encouragement and active policies on an EU level could make a difference in helping local actors adapt.

The Committee of Ministers’ Deputies assembled in Strasbourg, 2017. Image: Estonian Foreign Ministery (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

Future of Europe

By addressing current problems in Europe, the cultural heritage is already helping to safeguard the future of Europe. However, the recommendation document mentions that the sector should make the best of digital technologies and in particular artificial intelligence as well, although it is not clear how these technologies should be used. Handling technology with an ethical approach is key according to the Committee since technology should be used to protect human values and cultural diversity. An interesting example of putting such technology into practice is a recent project that aims to archive as much Ukrainian heritage as possible, since the start of the war.

By combining technology, youth involvement, and democratic values with heritage the Committee hopes that heritage can become a vital part of the way people live in Europe, now and in the future. This means organising accessible projects, courses, and workshops with local partners and communities should become more of a priority to national, regional and local governments.

Protecting the sector

All these positive ideas need to be transitioned from paper to practice. The Committee realises this as well and implies that heritage should receive tangible recognition for its efforts and important work. The document, for example, acknowledges the vital role public cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, and cultural venues play in enhancing cultural participation, especially among youth.

By creating minimum standards and contracts for cultural work, and encouraging governments to give the sector more funding, cultural heritage can make an impact in Europe.

But this means that the sector needs financial and legal backup. By addressing the working conditions in the cultural (heritage) sector and urging member states to support cultural institutes during the pandemic, or difficult times, the Council states a clear idea: heritage is not something that should be neglected. By creating minimum standards and contracts for cultural work, and encouraging governments to give the sector more funding, cultural heritage can make an impact in Europe.

While the document is a recommendation to national governments and thus not legally binding, it is a positive signal for those working in the cultural heritage. It is now up to the Council of Europe and the rest of the European Union what to do with these recommendations. What the practical consequences will be is yet unclear, but if Europe is willing to listen, cultural heritage can become an integral part of our future.

Sources: Council of Europe, Recommendation

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