ICH is not the same as folklore, neither as popular and traditional culture or ethnologic heritage

@Àlex Cosials

@Àlex Cosials

Lluís Garcia Petit is a specialist in intangible cultural heritage, world heritage and bioarchaeology. Director general of the Institute for Intangible Cultural Heritage (Barcelona, Spain).

 Valentyna Demian:  Hello, señor Garcia:

The Development Centre “Democracy through Culture” has launched an initiative, widely supported by our users: the international exchange of experience at the Platform for intangible cultural heritage . I would like to make you some questions considering that the experience of organization led by you is very important for Ukraine. As it is stated on your website, “IPACIM is an association committed to safeguarding cultural heritage, cultural diversity, sustainable development and cultural rights. Our projects are based on the principles of UNESCO conventions: The Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). We work with communities, institutions, experts, associations and any other agent interested in the conservation, study, diffusion and revitalization of cultural heritage, particularly intangible cultural heritage”.

I have so many questions that, I’m afraid, one conversation will not be enough. For starting, tell us where and how the idea of uniting Conventions 1972, 2005 and 2003 in your activities firstly had emerged?

Lluís Garcia Petit.: When I proposed the creation of a Heritage Department within the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, in 2006, we decided to focus in fostering the implementation of the UNESCO conventions and programmes on this subject. In our context, the Conventions from 1972 and 2003 are the most significant, specially the later, because it concerns all the intangible heritage. This is why we launched, among others, a project for inventorying ICH in the Montseny Biosphere Reserve and developing a methodology for this kind of inventories, which in 2013 was inscribed in the Registes of Best Practices of the Convention. After the UNESCO Centre ceased its activities at the end of 2012, a group of ancient employees and other people decided to create a new institution to resume the same role as that Heritage Department. This is how the Institut del Patrimoni Cultural Inmaterial (IPACIM, in English Institute for Intangible Cultural Heritage) was born in 2015. The name is limited to ICH because it is probably the main challenge to maintain cultural diversity in the world, but the 2005 Convention is also fondamental, specially for minority cultures and for creativity. I think that these three Conventions summarize the main challenges for cultural heritage and diversity preservation in the World.

V.D.: Tell us, please, if there are special laws or other legislative documents in Catalonia regulating the ICH matters?

L.G.P.: In Catalonia there is a law from 1993 on Catalan Cultural Heritage establishing that intangible goods belonging to the popular and traditional culture, according to the specific law on this issue, are also part of the Catalan cultural heritage. The specific law, also from 1993, concerns “the promotion and protection of popular and traditional culture and of cultural associations”. The concept of “popular and traditional culture”, equivalent to folklore, is not the same as ICH, of course, and therefore the Catalan government presented to the Parliament a new law “on Catalan intangible cultural heritage and on cultural associations” which is under process.

V.D.: Your Institute pays much attention to the work with communities. What is the role of communities in developing ICH policies?

L.G.P.: Communities are essential for the development of ICH policies and safeguarding. Communities must decide which elements are part of its ICH and must be involved in all actions dealing with ICH. This not only included in the Convention and its Operational Directives, it’s also an evidence since it is people who have transmitted and keep this heritage alive. But communities need time to assimilate the new concept and the approach that ICH represents. Therefore, ICH policies should have a long term vision and should include a large number of sustained practical initiatives which not only involve practitionners, but empowers them to take decisions on its own ICH. Furthermore, communities shoud be assisted by experts and institutions in this path. Experts have a vast knowledge on the origines, the evolution, the characteristics of many practices and traditions, which is fonamental for a conscious decision-making process. Institutions must set up the conditions to ensure the role of communities and the safeguarding of ICH.

V.D.: As I know, you undertake a lot of studies aimed at increasing role of the ICH, its development, safeguarding. Which are, on your opinion, main threats for ICH in the modern world and how we could avoid them?

L.G.P.: In my opinion, one of the main threats today is the invisibilization of ICH. Much of the most endangered ICH elements have not yet been identified as such. ICH is not the same as folklore, neither as popular and traditional culture or ethnologic heritage. At the same time, it is more than festivals, performing arts and handicrafts trivialization. For that reason it needs specific identification processes, as foreseen in the Convention. And I think that a great part of the ICH transmitted by individuals or small communities, of the less visible ICH, specially the one related with knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, remains invisible. In the long term, globalization remains a big threat, specially if associated to the idea that individual wealth should be the most important goal in life, because this often entails an individual and collective devaluation of inherited knowledge and practices.

V.D.: There is a very interesting information about ICH inventorying on your website. Tell, please, to which aspects one should pay attention and from what should start? What is the most important in this process?

L.G.P.: This is a very difficult question, but I would like to underline three aspects that, in my opinion, should be taken into account, i.e. community involvement, inclusiveness and cross-cutting approach. It is fondamental to assuming that it belongs to the community (individual or group) the decision whether a practice or knowledge is or is not ICH. It has to take the final decision on the elements included in the inventory. For that, it needs the information about what does ICH mean, what is the aim of the inventory, what is its own role… and that requires time. You cannot expect that the community floods in to the meeting you have organized and that after your explanations everything is clear. Many meetings are necessary, many conversations, clarifications…

Inclusiveness means for me, in this context, that you must try to identify every knowledge, practice, representation, expression or skill that could be ICH. You will have to consider all categories of ICH, not just festivals or performing arts, and look for the less visible elements. For that, you need time and the involvement of community. And also a cross-cutting approach, in which different specialists have a role to play : anthropologists, (local) historians (for the origin and evolution of ICH), biologists and geographers (for knowledge and practices concerning nature), linguists (for oral expressions)…

Making an inventory needs time and resources, but too often institutions prioritise other safeguarding measures, including nominations to the lists. I wonder how can you take appropiate measures if previously you have not properly identified the ICH present in your territory. Unfortunately, you rarely have enough time and resources to proceed to a comprehensive and accurate inventory. Despite this, launching an inventory adapted to specific situations is always a good and necessary safeguarding initiative, it is a first practical step to raising awareness among individuals and communities, often also among organizations and institutions.

V.D.: Señor Lluis, you have prepared the Inventory of intangible cultural heritage at the Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park. It is very interesting project. How long has it taken to do it, and what specialists have you involved since the park unites various kinds of heritage, cultural, historical, biological, etc.? What experience have you gained?

L.G.P.: The inventory is underway. We have to adapt to the limited resources of the Park and the administrative procedures and we are working on it in different phases. Our working team and collaborators include specialists in anthropology, history, archaeology, linguistic, food practices, and we work closely with the Park staff. One of the best experiences is to see how people in an small village has recovered enthusiasm to keep their traditions alive. When they see foreigners interested in their practices and knowledge, they soon feel proud about them and make more efforts for safeguarding. This is very rewarding!

V.D.: And to conclude, señor Lluis, what is the role of NGO in all activities related the ICH safeguarding?

L.G.P.: NGOs can and should play a fondamental role in ICH safeguarding. The gap between a UNESCO Convention and the daily life in a city, village or rural settlement is huge. It is the role of governments and governmental institutions to take appropiate measures to fill this gap and NGOs are an intermediate actor. They bring together individuals from the community or are closer to them and in this sense NGOs are in a very good position to contribute to fill the gap, to make the information circulate in both directions. But NGOs have limited capacities and in order to be able to fullfill the role foreseen in the Convention, they will need that governmental institutions set up an advantageous framework.

V.D.: Thank you for replies and allow me to express the hope that future collaboration between our organizations and communities will contribute to mutual knowledge of our cultures.  

@Luis Pablo Martínez

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