Unexpected but true: even heritage moves with the times. The world of cultural heritage began coming down from its ivory tower some time ago. Dutch heritage organizations have been working to broaden their outlook through participation and discussion. One way of achieving this has been to embrace different ideas about heritage when making decisions. These days it’s not only the professional perspective that counts, but also the views of the local resident.
As an undergraduate studying Urban Planning, I learned all about this ‘bottom-up’ trend. I began my Bachelor’s degree with the idea that I would soon be designing entire cityscapes from the drawing board. But by the time I’d finished, it looked more like my core business would be organizing barbecues to get the locals on board with the new plans for their neighbourhood.
I made the move to heritage, only to discover that the cultural heritage sector appears to be heading in the same direction. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: after all, there’s a general trend towards giving citizens more responsibilities and therefore a bigger say.
In 2005, this trend was reflected in a European convention that was drawn up in the Portuguese city of Faro. The Faro Convention emphasizes the connective value of heritage, its significance to society and the importance of participation. Faro has already been signed by a host of European countries. The Netherlands is also gearing up to sign the convention. At the request of Culture Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, an expert panel is currently looking into what Faro can mean for our country.
As a lover of all things old, I must admit that I eyed this new convention with some suspicion at first. Does heritage really have to go chasing the latest trends? I thought sadly. What about all those heritage professionals? Will they soon be joining the urban planners and firing up the barbie for the locals?
But the more I looked into this convention, the more relevant it became. It seems to resonate with the current cultural debates I follow as editor-in-chief of Erfgoedstem (Heritage Voice), from statues of controversial figures to whether Zwarte Piet should have a place in the Netherlands’ festive traditions. Heritage is no longer restricted to old churches or the country homes of the aristocracy. It has become far more personal, a means to preserve a beloved object or tradition.
Even so, Faro still presents me with a series of questions. What would it mean for the heritage sector if the Netherlands were to sign the convention? How would it impact the job of the heritage professional? Should they start stocking up on charcoal for the next neighbourhood meeting? And to what extent do we already comply with the convention’s recommendations?
These are the issues I plan to explore in this blog. In the coming weeks, I will be reading, researching, conducting interviews and going out to meet heritage enthusiasts… as far as possible in these strange times we’re living through. I hope you will join me on my quest, a nostalgic soul in search of the new and as yet uncharted land of Faro.