Heritage Youth Ambassadors, Europa Nostra
Heritage Youth Ambassadors, Europa Nostra

European Heritage Youth Ambassadors participated in the European Cultural Heritage Summit 2021 in Venice

The European Heritage Youth Ambassadors – a joint programme of ESACH, Europa Nostra and the European Heritage Tribune – wrote an article to tell you about their experiences and involvement during the European Cultural Heritage Sumit 2021 in Venice.

European Cultural Heritage Summit 2021 in Venice (Written by Hana Kohout and Elena-Maria Cautiș)

San Giorgio Maggiore and the Giorgio Cini Foundation, Elena-Maria Cautiș

This year’s edition of the European Cultural Heritage Summit, organised by Europa Nostra, was hosted at the glorious Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice from the 21st to 24th of September 2021. Along with the celebrated Heritage Awards Ceremony, the Summit witnessed various other events, such as the High Policy Agora Debate and the Ringing of the Bells for Peace and Heritage. These events produced content of great quality and value for the heritage and cultural sectors, at this moment in time. The main topics that were presented and discussed during the Summit were centred around the idea of a New European Renaissance. With this new cultural program, heritage professionals have launched new narratives to bring heritage into the current global context and make sense of the core issues that we are facing such as sustainability, overtourism, digitisation and the social and economic recovery, post pandemic.

European Cultural Heritage Summit, Pravali Vangeti

Venice, also home to the 2021 Biennale Architettura, was perfectly placed as the venue for the Summit, symbolizing the epitome of heritage and reminding us of what ought to be done in order to preserve the city and its landscape, for the decades ahead. Coinciding with the theme of this edition of the Biennale “How will we live together?”, the Summit offered the occasion for reflecting upon the future of the Lagoon, as well as the future of all living spaces across Europe. European Heritage Youth Ambassadors, as representatives of students and emerging professionals, were given the opportunity to be present and share their views on these pertinent issues. Some of them participated in the Agora, debating the future of heritage and its place within  European strategic planning, while others had the chance to announce the Grand Prix winners and hand over the diplomas, as a symbolic gesture of passing on the responsibility of changing the paradigm around heritage.

The Summit proved to be a perfect occasion for intergenerational dialogue, for disseminating knowledge about the importance of heritage for society, and for reflecting upon the future of Europe.

European Heritage Youth Ambassadors participation (Written by Héctor Aliaga de Miguel and Anna Angelica Ainio)

Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Pravali Vangeti

The European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice was not only a meeting and a reference point at the European and international levels for experts in the field of cultural heritage, but also a key milestone for one of the most recently formed cohorts of Europa Nostra: the European Heritage Youth Ambassadors (EHYA). This new initiative was launched in January 2021 in collaboration with the EHT (European Heritage Tribune) and ESACH (European Students’ Association for Cultural Heritage); however, due to the continued health concerns arising from Covid-19, the Youth Ambassadors had to wait until September to meet in person and get to know each other first-hand. After several months of remote and digital collaboration, the Venice Summit offered the opportunity for this cohort to strengthen its ties, generate synergies and share culture, knowledge, and experiences among one another and with the attendees of the Summit.

In total, eight of the eleven members of the group were able to travel to Venice in person, in light of the travel restrictions within Europe, along with Wanda Marcussen from the Europa Nostra team,  motivated to work collaboratively and towards a common goal, taking in from different perspectives, cultures and nationalities. To this end, the cohort kicked off the Summit’s activities with their monthly meeting, the first ever to be held in a hybrid model, to share insights on new projects started by the EHYA over the summer. Following this, the Youth Ambassadors moved to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore  (part of the city of Venice) to discuss and plan the activities of the summit. Finally, they joined the celebrations of the most important event of the day: the European Heritage Awards Ceremony. Some of the Youth Ambassadors, such as Giovanni Pescarmona from Italy and Jelena Krivokapic from Serbia, had the opportunity to participate actively during the Ceremony as announcers of the four Grand Prix laureates, while Elena Cautis from Romania and Hector Aliaga de Miguel from Spain handed out the European Heritage Awards diplomas and the ILUCIDARE Special Prizes to all the winners.

European Heritage Awards Ceremony main hall at Cini Foundation, Héctor Aliaga | European Heritage Awards Ceremony preparation at Cini Foundation, Héctor Aliaga

Indulging in some intangible heritage, the Ambassadors had the opportunity to attend the concert played by the European Union Youth Orchestra in the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, on the adjacent island of the Giudecca.

Concert at Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, Héctor Aliaga

European Heritage Youth Ambassadors experiences and testimonials (Written by Antigoni Michael, Jelena Krivokapic and Pravali Vangeti)

Europa Nostra actively engaged European Heritage Youth Ambassadors in the series of events organised in Venice. This initiative had two main dimensions:  the engagement of younger generations in the discussions about European heritage, and the creation of strong bonds between the EHYA, a foundation for their continued collaboration, ensuring the sustainability of the project.

This approach was evident from the importance and experience of engaging the youth in a Summit that involved experts, heritage enthusiasts, donors, civil society representatives, and other stakeholders. The value of creating events which blend people from different backgrounds in our societies lies in the fact that ideas can be exchanged and decisions can be made towards better approaches on heritage matters that are simultaneous at all levels. This is a practice that Europa Nostra has followed in all of their Summits. Engaging the young people in this process is a compelling and important task, acknowledging that young people also have “a say” in the future of heritage and their local societies.

The set-up of the bridge between generations proved to be very valuable, because young people highlighted the ways in which they can contribute to the current and future societies, while eagerly learning from the experiences of those before them. There were three main messages that were gathered during this exchange.

The first message that the EHYA and EN integration gave was that of a “greener future”. It was discussed that together, youth can collaborate to save our planet. EN has already worked towards this goal substantially, by releasing the “European Cultural Heritage Green Paper”, which intends to put heritage at the heart of the “European Green Deal”. Heritage and environmental issues are going hand in hand, and European heritage won’t survive the extremities of climate change that the Earth is now experiencing. Special attention was given of course to the efforts made towards saving Venice, as an example of the measures needed to tackle the effects of climate change, which various heritage sites are experiencing already, across the continent and globally.

European Cultural Heritage Green Paper, ICOMOS, Europa Nostra, European Bank Investment – Institute and  Climate Heritage Network

In line with this key message, during her intervention at the High Policy Agora Debate on “Cultural Heritage at the Heart of the European Green Deal”, Pravali Vangeti presented the event series “Climate Heritage Narratives: Youth-led Intergenerational Dialogues”, which was conceptualized following some key recommendations from the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper, and designed and implemented by her (as the representative from Europa Nostra) along with three other youth co-convenors, within the framework of Pre-COP 26, hosted by Italy.

High Policy Agora Debate on “Cultural Heritage at the Heart of the European Green Deal”, Antigoni Michael

The second message was the exchange of knowledge and practices. Generations of different people grew with different education systems, within different historical circumstances and even within different socio-economic systems. Thus, the exchange of different perspectives is crucial for the further development of our societies,  particularly through the channels of heritage preservation and social inclusion. Special attention was given to peacebuilding and heritage management in crises. Specifically, EHYA Antigoni Michael discussed the importance of systematic engagement with cultural heritage located in conflict zones (only once the environment is safe) since “the community is the soul of cultural heritage”. Young people have the potential to become caretakers of heritage.  Thus, stakeholders should provide them with a seat at the table during the decision making process and collaborate with them for further and active youth engagement in the heritage of conflict areas.

High Policy Agora Debate on “Cultural Heritage, a catalyst for peace and mutual understanding”, Antigoni Michael

In the third panel named “Culture and Heritage as the basis of a New European Renaissance” Ambassador Hana Kohout made her intervention and explored how this “New European Renaissance” would manifest and what meaning it would have for young Europeans in the cultural sector. In this context she stressed the importance of giving more space to new voices and ideas, and in fact creating ways for the new young generation to make their contribution and that it be valued. Hence, this is ultimately linked to the idea of the democratisation of heritage and culture and moving in that direction when it comes to a New European Renaissance– creating more accessible ways of making heritage valuable and preserved so that it can keep up and be relevant with the present time and the issues the EU is facing.  Moreover, the message that the third panel gave was of the big support that the younger generation can provide to Europe in a digital era. Technology is a relevant factor in our societies and will help find solutions to many issues that we are now facing within and beyond the heritage sector, and the youth is perfectly placed to bridge this technological gap.

High Policy Agora Debate on “Culture and Heritage as the basis of a New European Renaissance”, Antigoni Michael

The event as a whole was highly cohesive and coherent. Indeed, the city of Venice with its fragile beauty was a continuous reminder of the inevitable problems young heritage professionals and conscious citizens are facing today-  heritage conservation, climate change preoccupations and tourism sustainability are inevitably connected. This was a leitmotif of the fascinating speeches delivered at the Europa Nostra Heritage Awards and during the Heritage Agora discussions. The pertinence of discussing these topics with professionals coming from diverse sectors in the heritage world was enhanced by the intergenerational nature of these dialogues.

The city of Venice acted as a catalyst for the ongoing discussions over the challenges that await cultural heritage students and young professionals as European citizens. While walking in its streets and admiring its beauty, the Youth Ambassadors embarked on endless discussions over the importance of building a sustainable form of tourism that the city desperately needs.

View of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Elena-Maria Cautiș

The Agora provided a platform for the Youth Ambassadors to confront their creative ideas as young professionals, alongside experienced sector professionals. This resulted in an enriching experience that fuelled their enthusiasm but also made them highly conscious of the challenges to be faced in the future. However, the Agora discussions highlighted the need for unity and cohesion among young and experienced professionals, as well as among heritage enthusiasts. They drove the conviction that if the youth stay united, they will be able to build a more sustainable and accessible future for heritage conservation.

Building on this intergenerational integration, another important dimension of engaging youth in the European Cultural Heritage Summit was the bonding between the EHYA cohort. Europa Nostra brought together 11 young people from diverse backgrounds, each of them sharing the same passion for the heritage sector. Some of the Ambassadors are addressing social inclusion, some others are working on digitisation, while yet others are specialised in natural heritage or environmental issues pertaining to heritage. This amalgamation is very important because it enables the cohort to approach the discussions on heritage holistically.

Heritage Youth Ambassadors in Giardini Reali di Venezia, Giovanni Pescarmona

During the Summit, the Youth Ambassadors had the opportunity to live together, walk in the city, eat traditional Venetian food and,  of course, participate in the Summit. This was essential because living together meant that they had the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts about the topics discussed in the Summit, understand major crucial issues about Venice, and the immense impact of climate change on the city. It also allowed them to discuss plans for the project and how they, as young people, could continue contributing to the sector of heritage even after the programme comes to an end. The EHYA celebrated their role as a crucial cohort of young Europa Nostra members, ready to create a pan-European community made of experts and enthusiasts, with the aim of raising awareness and sharing knowledge among the youth. At the same time, they also realised that they came along very well, in a fruitful environment, full of discussions and ideas about the future of heritage and Europe.

During the Heritage Agora, they had the opportunity to further develop their goals and ideas on heritage issues, together with experts of other generations. The result? A vivid proof that intergenerational collaboration is possible through mutual trust. The senior experts trusted the EHYA to share their knowledge, skills, and ideas, while simultaneously being open to conversations and debate. This positive collaboration can be drawn as a template for future events and other organisations in Europe: with 2022 having been declared as the European Year of Youth, such collaborations are indeed timely in engaging young people for the future of Europe.

Accordingly, the European Cultural Heritage Summit was filled with inspiring energy that with certainty left a lasting impact on its attendees. It was a great mix of Venetian food, architecture and canals, along with the heartfelt speeches from award winners and the passionate Heritage Agora discussions that gave the Summit its unique spirit. Thus, as participants left Venice, they surely carried the energy and enthusiasm of this amazing gathering with them.  This energy will serve as inspiration and motivation to continue their work in creating a sustainable future, combating climate change, overcoming the negative effects of mass tourism, stimulating youth engagement, and addressing the post-pandemic recovery.

Heritage Youth Ambassadors and Europa Nostra at the dinner, Unknown

The High-level Agora thus offered a platform to the Youth Ambassadors not just to share their thoughts on the ongoing heritage discourse, but also to share concrete actions they are undertaking to protect and preserve heritage across Europe and beyond. Throughout their year-long mandate as European Heritage Youth Ambassadors, the cohort committed to organizing various pertinent youth events, as representatives of Europa Nostra, while effortlessly carrying out interesting social media campaigns to raise awareness on heritage.

As the first in-presentia meeting in the heritage sector post pandemic, the European Cultural Heritage Summit truly provided a wonderful opportunity for experts, academics, practitioners and enthusiasts alike, to come together and experience their shared culture, with the 1600th anniversary of Venice setting the stage perfectly. The Youth Ambassadors were able to converse with one another and build lasting networks, with the Summit offering them the cultural and intellectual fodder to continue towards a New European Renaissance, with renewed enthusiasm.

(Edited by Giovanni Pescarmona)

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