Jorijn Neyrinck coordinates the UNESCO accredited NGO Workshop intangible heritage (Werkplaats immaterieel erfgoed), in Flanders, Belgium, is a member of the UNESCO Commission in Flanders, and a facilitator in the Global Facilitators’ Network of the UNESCO 2003 Convention.
Kia Tsakiridis is the coordinator of the international Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project (IMP). She studied History at the University of Ghent and Heritage Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Since 2015, she has been working at the NGO Workshop intangible heritage, the Flemish centre for expertise on heritage participation and ICH.
Valentyna Demian: Dear Jorijn and Kia, the Development Centre “Democracy through Culture” has launched and realizes a set of interviews concerning questions, perspectives and possibilities in the sphere of the ICH, it’s interaction with other branches and disciplines, that is, all issues which interest all practicing or researching this heritage. Covid-19 has impacted on the ICH equally as on other aspects of our life. At the same time, it is an opportunity to analyze achievements, rethink certain approaches and forms. Particularly, it deals with the interaction between the ICH and museums.
You were initiators and realizers of the international Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project (IMP), Kia was the coordinator of the project, and the NGO Workshop intangible heritage run by you, Jorijn, was the IMP lead partner. Which museums were involved to this project – exclusively those treated or oriented toward the ICH, or museums of different profile could also take part?
Jorijn Neyrinck & Kia Tsakiridis: Museums were invited to participate in the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Project (IMP) on the basis of calls for proposals (for example: https://www.ichandmuseums.eu/en/call-for-proposals-mechelen). These calls were distributed to all museums in the five countries where the initiatory partners of the project were located: the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, France and Belgium.
In each partner country we organized a two-day international conference and expert meeting. These events focused on specific key challenges: ICH, museums and (super)diversity (in the Netherlands), participation (in Italy), urbanized society (in Switzerland), innovation (France), and cultural policies (Belgium). These challenges were identified as being of relevance to both the field of museums and that of intangible cultural heritage. We set out to discover how we could learn to cope with these challenges by exchanging experience and expertise on the verge of both fields of museums and from the ICH-perspective.
Museums of all types and size (from ecomuseums, to city museums, to art museums, to volunteer museums…) were able to answer to these calls. And they did! The broad range of museum practices on intangible cultural heritage safeguarding was actually just what we were looking for, in our quest to learn from their different working methods. Also, notably the international comparative perspective brought about many insights and a range of ways to approach ICH safeguarding.
V.D.: As a result of the project, at the beginning of 2020, a toolkit «Intangible cultural heritage and museums» was published. Our users can find it by the link https://www.ichandmuseums.eu/en/imp-toolkit
Could you tell us about this edition: is it possible to place “living culture” in the museum space? Will it be a compromise or an innovative approach?
J.N. & E.T.: The toolkit is the result of three years of uncovering needs and wants in relation to safeguarding the ICH of practitioners who love and cherish their intangible heritage, together with museums. It offers its users a lot of introductory tools, because throughout the course of the project, a great need was expressed for tools that would answer questions such as: How do I start with inviting practitioners of ICH in the museum? How do I know what intangible cultural heritage is relevant for the museum and its audiences? How do I convey the importance of intangible heritage to my colleagues? How can practitioners of ICH and museums work on sustainable relationships, based on equality?
The innovative aspect of the toolkit lies in the fact that it is organized on the premise of an approach that does not favor ‘the museum approach’ over the ‘ICH approach’, or the other way around. It rather looks for the ways in which the ‘standards’ of working methods from both fields can be applied to the benefit of all, and for heritage care in general. This so-called ‘intersection’ approach is the topic of chapter 3 of the book that is part of the toolkit, so make sure to have a look.
We would definitely not characterize the work that is being undertaken by museums in relation to intangible heritage as a compromise, but rather foster the continued work in progress it represents, in the pursuit of the viability of intangible heritage and as a response to changing needs in society. In our Declaration on the dynamic engagement between a multiplicity of actors from the fields of museums and intangible heritage, all partners that were engaged in IMP, applaud the fact that people are stepping out of their comfort zones, mutating, dynamizing and adapting things that were long seen as a given, questioning themselves, respecting one another for their equally valuable expertise, and so on!
With IMP we learned that it is possible to include living heritage in the museum space, but also that it shouldn’t be confined to the element of space alone. In order for sustainably integrating the safeguarding of intangible heritage in museums’ work, it’s necessary to start with the immersion of ICH in all aspects of the museum, and to work together with its practitioners from the very start. A lot of reflection, and even technical adaptations – for example in relation to collection management software – still needs further development, and might be an interesting starting point for a new international collaboration project!
V.D.: I have reviewed the toolkit which, on my opinion, opens wide opportunities and raises actual questions, including Ukrainian situation. What could you wish to Ukrainian colleagues?
J.N. & E.T.: We would wish that the colleagues in Ukraine feel inspired and empowered to also experiment with the multitude of practices that are embodied in the concept of intangible cultural heritage, ranging from crafts or performing arts, to world views, rituals and so on. And that people will find the tools they need in order to start new collaborations based on dialogue and equity, putting the care for the continuation of intangible heritage – and surely including the related objects, spaces, memories, and so on – at the center of the process they embark upon.
We hope that museums – as the living and evolutive places they are – can act as potent platforms to raise awareness and help understand the role that diverse practices of the intangible heritage play in Ukraine, for its practitioners on the one hand; but just as much for the museum audience and Ukrainian society in general.
V.D.: Dear Jorijn and Kia, you have fruitfully worked in the ICH sphere, representing sometimes public structures, sometimes civic society. What role can NGOs play in the dialogue between museum and community?
J.N. & E.T.: The work that we have done with the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Project is one level on which NGOs – who are the prime actors behind the project – can play a role. Through their networks they brought together – on an international platform – transversal insights and experiences, and relevant methodologies that can support and inspire others.
On yet another level, NGOs can be one of the many stakeholders that sit at the table when the dialogue with practitioners of intangible heritage and museum staff takes a start, or in the quest for sustainable collaborative relations. Here NGOs can act as mediators, who are knowledgeable about what is happening in the field of ICH just as much as they are acquainted with the work that is being done in museums, helping to bridge any gaps that might be present.