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Reflect: Heritage and Social Innovation

Heritage and identity are often seen as static and exclusionary. With the approaching European Year for Cultural Heritage 2018, this is the moment to challenge this simplistic view, exposing the nuances of heritage in all its complexity and its opportunities for social innovation. Social innovation models in the cultural field are a challenge, but if we do not make an effort, then we have already lost. We have to be brave enough to try. We should not talk in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, but about a united civil area where heritage has an importance but is also connected with modern life and social actions.

Julia Pagel (NEMO) opened by speaking about the potential of heritage for social innovation and cohesion including through digital dimension.


Niels Righolt (Danish Centre for Arts & Interculture) talked about the interaction of different cultures and the way that when they come together, they create something new, a kind of hybridity, rather than becoming monochrome. He spoke about his work with migrants, and involving them in co-decision in order to create trust and a relationship between the individuals and the institution, with interesting results.


Cristina da Milano (ECCOM) spoke about how cities face the risk of being turned into exploitative touristic attractions, losing their link with citizens. She discussed the concept of heritage-based sustainability (economic, environmental, and particularly social) and the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, a programme based on sustainability through lifelong learning processes. She described how heritage could be used in this context and how heritage should be considered as a social innovation area.


Ludovico Solima (University of Campania) introduced Altofest, an international performing arts festival that focuses on involvement and relationships between the places involved. He also spoke about the Farm Cultural Park, an artistic project initiating a rebirth process in the old centre of Favara. Finally, he described a game in the archaeological museum of Naples that demonstrates an intersection between cultural institutions and the creative industry.


Mirjam Raabis (Estonian Ministry of Culture) gave some examples from Estonia and Eastern Europe to illustrate what is happening in the digital domain. The Presidency of Estonia in the EU aims to promote culture by digital means and audience development. Why digitise media? Technology advances quickly, particularly in the heritage sector, which provides an enormous opportunity to reach audience through digital means. In the digital world, everyone is equal and has the opportunity to participate, so institutions need to let go of their control. A couple of years ago there was an expert group mapping audience development strategies, and they found very little. That means that there is no focus on this subject, so they want to address this as a subject during Estonia’s term in the European Presidency.


Michel Magnier (European Commission) commented that we are like shoemakers who keep saying that shoes are very important. We need to change our rhetoric and say what change heritage can make. The European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 (EYCH) is an opportunity to do that. People think we need to protect heritage, but we also need to use it as a resource for the future. It can help us resolve tensions. Protection and valorisation are important, yet heritage does not belong to experts, but to citizens. When we consider natives and migrants, heritage belongs to all, so we must make space for new cultures coming to the EU in the sector. This should be a focus for the EYCH.


Julia reaffirmed that the EYCH is a moment to celebrate all the potential in heritage. As had been discussed at the AGM, there is a question of where the space for discourse on difficult heritage and abandoned heritage is. She questioned how much this has come up as part of EYCH?


Magnier stated that EYCH is also about having debate. The EYCH is organised in layers, so on the one hand it is bottom up, but it also needs to have a European dimension, so cross-border cooperation projects and managing projects with direct European character are very relevant. Other elements of importance are sustainability and young people. The EYCH should inspire new ways of thinking about heritage, not just make attraction parks (the kind of treatment that is resisted by locals), and killing the hen that lays the golden eggs.


Niels put forward the work of certain arts museums that have found that to address issues of far right, they should not to use their rhetoric, but rather reframe the conversation and address other parts of society. When we talk about cultural democracy, we are talking about participation in democracy, not through divisions such as migrant/native, educated/non-educated etc. Cultural heritage institutions need to and are able to position themselves in our societies to build bridges.


Cristina felt that this was a problem determined by the immobility of cultural institutions. If we do not reach out to citizens, we will not have an impact. The political choice to push cultural institutions to understand that the world out there is bigger than many think, but there is a resistance to that, and the result is that we just end up talking amongst ourselves.


Ugo Bacchella posed a question for Michel Magnier, stating, we all know that we add social value and should add more, but this is not a fight that we can win alone, not without people outside our walls, people in the real world. However we do not know what is happening in those neighbourhoods. Cultural operators are trying to work at that level. But what happens at the political level? At the level of policy, culture is in a dark corner. What we have been doing with trying to raise awareness, promote exchange, networking, bring content to every one to raise aware among professionals, so maybe in the next generation it will be better. Putting together social issues, economy, urban development, environment and culture is infrastructural in all these policies.


Michel Magnier agreed that this is right. He drew people’s attention to the speech by Juncker, in which he said that “culture is not a hobby”. It seems to indicate, he continued, that it was a revelation to many people, that culture is not just for a rainy day, so there are steps being made in the right direction.


A question from the floor referred to Niels’ mentioning how they tried to address issues faced by migrants to understand the country into which they arrive. They asked whether it was possible to address the needs of migrants without prejudices that exist within society (especially if it is in the cultural memory of the history of the country) and if it was possible not to mix two communities together in the process.


Second, they asked how we think about heritage ourselves as we all have multiple identities but often feel more comfortable putting one forward in public debate. They asked how heritage can contribute to the way we behave and communicate with others.


Third, they asked how the European level could put forward an agenda that tackles the national way of thinking about heritage, memory and history and how it could provide added value and not just reflect national approaches.


Niels responded that there was always a risk and in the case of Denmark, the far right have an agenda that makes it seem like a xenophobic country, both in public space and in the media. However, if you go down the path of structures, it is easier to include migrants. At what point can someone be judged to have become a citizen? This depends on looking at structure vs behaviour. For example, action in museums integrates people in society and indeed takes responsibility on behalf of society for democracy, although there is also a pressure on museums not to engage politically.

In response to the second question: if you want to be perceived as relevant and produce appropriate offers for different groups in society, you have to present different paths. This is a better understanding of audience development. Partnering with refugee centres and language schools can help support dialogue.


Michel suggested that subsidiarity is one answer, but it is too obvious. The EU is also an area for political debate and confrontation, and some Member States go against some of the strongest European values, so we must confront these views, and we can do so through the EYCH.


A further question from the floor addressed the use of ‘they’ and ‘us’, proposing that we are all ‘us’, and that we are all civilians outside the office. We are always confronted by institutions that cannot cope with civil society and actions, because they are difficult or they are unknown. We will lose the youth if we do not connect. Many times initiatives already killed by us before they even get started because they are seen as too difficult.


Cristina responded that social innovation models in the cultural field are a challenge, but if we do not make an effort, then we have already lost. We have to be brave enough to try. We should not talk in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, but about a united civil area where heritage has an importance but is also connected with modern life and social actions.


Annalisa Cicerchia wanted to consider the meaning of innovation in its full power. An individual act of creating something is not simple, but it is about including novelty in daily processes. Many implementations have gone in that direction, and now we are moving from scattered good practices to making them mainstream. She invited CAE to consider the idea of building a cultural policy acquis as part of a sustainable social input model, as interpreted at EU level. We should try to build a cultural acquis, otherwise we are condemned to perpetual agitation.

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