According to a 2016 study by Interpret Europe (IE), an independent and non-profit organisation that connects European professionals involved in heritage interpretation, “heritage communities” will play an increasingly important role in the field over the next five years. The research is titled “European Trends and Developments Affecting Heritage Interpretation” and is carried out by 15 IE members with an aim to identify key trends that will shape the future of professional work in the field.
Taking into consideration socio-cultural, technological, economic and political trends in Europe, the study highlights strengths and opportunities arising for heritage professionals. The findings are intended to help them plan their future projects and improve their work by taking into consideration five dominant aspects, including:
Slow economic growth leading to declining heritage funding
Increased emphasis on people and ‘heritage communities’
Search for authenticity, quality and value
Increase of purpose-driven activities
Increasing importance of social media.
Among the most dominant trends, “heritage communities” represent a significant factor in cultural heritage creation, conservation and management. Defined by Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention, Council of Europe 2005), as groups consisting of “people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations,” heritage communities play a key role in preserving heritage for future generations.
In terms of heritage interpretation, the focus on communal values and democratic management is becoming critical for the field’s progress. The study suggests that policies increasingly call for “people to be actively empowered to participate in all phases of its management,” thus putting communities at the heart of heritage work. On a four-point scale assessing “significance,” “relevance,” and “impact” of the trend, heritage communities scored extremely and very high in all three aspects.
This suggests that people and, more specifically, cultural heritage principles outlined by Faro Convention are growingly important for associated policies on heritage creation and management. In the context of heritage interpretation, this marks a shift of focus from scientific materials and studies to the immediate surroundings of heritage sites. When it comes to the opportunities for HI in relation to heritage communities, the study suggests:
“This provides a key opportunity for HI to show the contribution it can make, particularly in terms of using cultural heritage for learning, which is an area where HI has traditionally been positioned and where it consequently can draw on an extensive body of writing and research.”
As a potential threat, however, such a focus may position HI as a professional practice that seeks to disempower community management of heritage. This illustrates the changing landscape and introduces new perspectives on heritage management practices, which may bring about innovation in the field in general. More importantly, IE study confirms the impacts of Faro Convention thus far and implies new opportunities for projects that place people into focus of heritage management.
Interpret Europe (2016). European trends and developments affecting heritage interpretation.
Witzenhausen: Interpret Europe. Available at: http://www.interpret-europe.net/top/trends.html
Action for a Changing Society. Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society. Council of Europe. https://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/heritage/identities/Faro-brochure_en.PDF