Social partnership and territorial perspective: keys to the integrated management of cultural heritage

Seminar in Lisboa, February 2007

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization

Bertrand Russell

What can we do with our castle? Towards a creative heritage management

Since the last decade of the 20th Century there has been in Spain a significant increase in the awareness about the social use of the cultural goods. It can be appreciated in the increasing numbers of new museums, monuments, interpretation centres and the numerous projects to be implemented in following years.

In more than fifteen years as a cultural heritage and tourism consultant I had to answer from time to time the question: “What can we do with our castle/ our church/ our collection?” The point is that anybody asks how to conserve but how to make the investment profitable in terms of local development. Indeed, the more projects I have had to elaborate were about the role that some cultural goods should play in a specific territory and in our society. A society that is questioning more and more the traditional model of development and start developing alternative models based in the concept of sustainability.

Moreover, in the following years the heritage professionals will have to assume their role as social mediator, especially if we take in consideration that social participation and the research for wide citizen consensus are and will be the keys in the planning in the new sustainable development scenarios in Europe.

For this process to be successful there must be two necessary factors:

  • In the first place the training of the new heritage professionals: it will be necessary to define the new professional profiles and design the new formation curriculum. Nowadays the traditional university degrees intended to train investigators and educators are not enough. The new heritage reality demands professionals that already had a training in art, history, anthropology or archaeology but also training in strategic planning, cultural marketing, heritage interpretation and capable to run a budget or to prepare a candidature to the Culture 2000 Programme.
  • In second place, the modernization of heritage management: it will be necessary to establish a new theoretical framework for the valorisation of the heritage based in the concepts of local development, territory perspective and social use of the heritage. But it won’t be enough to put together some concepts, it will be necessary to make deep changes in the administrative structure that favours an antiquity-like idea of heritage, instead of creative and strategic policies.

The adequate preparation of a new generation of professionals and the implementation of these concepts of modernization in the heritage revalorization projects that will take place in Portugal in the next few years would allow facing the main challenge and the main menace that threaten Portugal and Spain:

  • The Challenge: to seize the opportunity given by the increase in the cultural consume to favour the investment of resources for the recuperation and adaptation of the cultural goods. The growth in cultural tourism allows that the revalorisation of heritage could be assessed from the market economy logics and not only from essentialist, corporative or ideological criteria. This favours the participation of civil society (under the form of businessmen, professionals, associations, groups…) in the management of cultural goods, that will stop being exclusive of the Administration and will allow a true democratic debate about the use of cultural goods.
  • The Menace: the menace is double; in one hand we have the existence of development models based on the speculation and not on sustainability, insensitive to the preservation of the cultural and natural values. On the other hand, the second menace comes from some heritage managers that too often enclose isolate themselves and forget their main task: build bridges between society and heritage.

What are those kids doing in the cave with shovels? Towards a democratic management of heritage.

On several occasions we have met some mayors annoyed with an archaeological site being excavated in their town. Often the cause of this situation is the delay that this excavation causes to some previous plans of the mayor. But in other occasions, the ones that are relevant to us, the cause of the mayor’s angry is that nobody spoke previously to the mayor about the excavations, and not even about what they were going to do with them. What the mayor wanted was the possibility of getting involved in the process of heritage valorisation, something else than giving them a place to keep the tools at night.

This attitude reflects the lack of participation that the civil society has in the decision making process about the revalorisation of their heritage. The archaeological sector in Spain is paradigmatic of these practices. Most projects are decided by a person or two, in offices far from the place where the excavation will take place. As a consequence of this, as not all the periods have the same interest for archaeology we find an unequal knowledge about diverse moments of history. As an example, in Asturias cave painting got the major attention while other essential moments of history such as the foundation of the Asturias Kingdom are left aside.

Everybody knows that the resources invested in heritage are very limited. This limitation implies the need to select and sort where and how much is invested in this sector. The absence of clear criteria, previously decided to make these decisions opens the gates to a corporative, interested or biased, not very democratic.

For example Catalonia, in the second half of the 19th Century, the peak of the nationalist conscience was accompanied by the consideration that the Romanesque architecture was the “national architecture”. In this intellectual environment many studies and projects were implemented that helped to preserve some rural churches but at the same time destroyed baroque frescos. Although the policies in conservation have changed much in the last two centuries this example is clear to show how archaeological decisions are often taken from a political point of view and not from an academic and “unanimous” point of view.

Two elements are necessary to solve the conflict of interests:

  • The generalisation of cultural goods planning tools, that in the Anglo-Saxon is known as Strategic Heritage Interpretation Plans. These plans, like the territory strategic plans, must be done in collaboration with the citizens and have to be used as agreements to decide the use of cultural goods in a specific territory. These tools are basic in order to implement coherent and realistic heritage plans. They must answer questions such as what the conservation priorities are, what activities will be essential to the project, what’s the message we want to deliver, which will be the visitor profile, how monuments will become accessible and how is going to be profitable… If these plans don’t exist it will be very difficult to assess and evaluate the results of the proposals.
  • To confront the imbalance caused by the present policy of decision making it is necessary to create a participative mechanism that will allow the political and the social agents of a territory manifest their interests towards the valorisation of their heritage. It will not only be necessary to create an interpretation plan but to elaborate it in situ to know the interests and worries of the locals about their heritage.

From closed to open museum? Towards the territorial management of the heritage.

Too often has been seen in Spain that the automatic answer to the idea of valorisation of the local heritage was the ethnographic museum, or recently the “magical wand” of interpretation centres.

One of the most common mistakes in Spain, when it comes to the valorisation of the cultural heritage goods, is to focus the discussion on an isolated cultural good or in a global management of these goods. In some cases the only worry is conservation while in others it’s just its diffusion.

The cause of this error is the general lack in Spain of territorial planning of cultural heritage management. Its more serious consequence is that emphasising so much one aspect creates imbalance and deviations: investigation without diffusion creates an image of the heritage as a restricted space for the cultural elites. Same happens with the plans that focus just on preservation and do not focus on the growth possibilities of the product. Diffusion without investigation is also a fraudulent way to present reality and the lack of conservation policies implies the destruction of heritage.

Confronting these unilateral policies it is necessary to defend the idea that heritage is a complex system that integrates five functions in its social use: conservation, documentation, investigation, acquisition and diffusion.

In the last few years I’ve been working with my team in the definition of a heritage management from a territorial perspective. The result of this work reverberates in the development of two operative concepts: open museum and territory museum.

Both concepts obey to the very same idea: to create management instruments adapted to the current needs of social use of heritage and local development. Both concepts are tightly related with the French concept of the Ecomuseum which they share the integral and territorial vision of cultural and natural heritage and with the English tradition of heritage interpretation plans. The main difference we established is the territorial aspect of the application: while the open museum is applied to historic sites in urban contexts, the territorial museum is applied to wider territorial environments.

Open museum and Territory museum share a double meaning:

  • We apply the physic meaning, to talk about an ecological and cultural leisure offer that manifests as a huge open air museum without walls and inhabited in continuous change composed by monuments, interpretation centres, routes, etc. Differing from the open air museums the Open Museum and the Territory Museums are not located in an exclusive use space, limited by walls; these museums want to integrate the day-to- day life of the territory. So it is essential to provide the visitor (local or foreign) with the tools to help him understand the place and what the territory has to offer.
  • As a method innovation we use it to designate an organization structure, able to lead a sustainable development process, in charge of the use of the heritage and devoted to the use of an interpretation strategy plan that will be elaborated in a democratic way.

From a territorial point of view, the valorisation of the heritage is not a process that only takes place between four walls, is about integrating the nature and the monuments as spaces of the memory.

Also from this territorial perspective, the resources must be articulated under a common framework, the key criteria of interpretation which joins together the diverse themes and present resources in the territory. The thematic deployment of the key criteria of interpretation over the territory will be the main cause of an Open Museum or a Territory Museum where the objects and concepts are presented in its original social context and physic environment. Both concepts can be very attractive for those zones with an important historic presence that preserve many traces of its past: artisan and gastronomic traditions, linguistic singularities, popular architectures, peculiar production strategies, monuments, archaeological sites, works of art, cultural manifestations…

One of the challenges generated by this proposal is the fact that both residents and non-residents will be able to notice the limits and contents of the Territory Museum and the Open Museum, because (as we stated above), it is not located in a specific and exclusive precinct, but it shares its day-to-day with the territory and the inhabitants. It is essential to provide the visitor with the tools that will enable him to understand and learn what the space offers to him, which leads to our final question: the visitor or the issues concerning the visitors.

Citizens or subjects? Towards a person-oriented heritage management.

When I visited the Acropolis, the Caracalla termae, the Alhambra or the Pena Palace I have felt as a subject that must pay a fee in order to enter the site not as a citizen with right to an intelligent leisure.

Let’s have a look on the Athens Acropolis, one of the greatest worldwide monuments, object of pilgrimage of thousand of tourists and the place where one might expect to find a paradigm of good practices concerning visitor issues. Unfortunately, my visits to the Acropolis proved me wrong. Let’s see why.

My first contact with the organisation that manages the Acropolis happens right in the ticket booth: a grey booth that says nothing about what I should expect to receive in exchange for the fee. I feel the same way I would feel paying in a highway toll booth, just paying to go through. First disappointment… but this won’t stop me from buying the ticket.

In front of the ticket booth I find a savings bank, a post office and beverages and sandwiches shop and it comes to my mind that I won’t be suffering starvation or thirst and I will be able to send some postcards to my friends… then I realize that I don’t bring their addresses with me, just their e-mail addresses. Second disappointment… but I won’t let such small things discourage me!

Then I just remember I have to buy a guide and I start looking for a guide shop. I suppose that such an important as the Acropolis will have shops that will be able to provide me with guides and all other kinds of stuff. Surprisingly I am only able to find a luxury items store, which I’m obviously not going to buy. I ask for a place to buy a guide and someone points towards a strange place, somehow similar to a bunker. When approaching the bunker I find out that it is a kiosk that has on display various guides, absolutely worn-out guides chained to the kiosk, which makes me feel as a usual suspect. Third disappointment… but nevertheless I buy a guide and it even is in Spanish, well, well, looks like the market goes smoothly!

Although the complete absence of signage it is not difficult to find out the path that leads to the monument, a stream of people points the right path in a processional way. The human tide works smoothly thanks to the good intentions of its members because nobody thought about managing or simply organizing the access. As I approach to the main staircase that leads to the Acropolis the procession gets so dense that it reminds me of the first day of sales in a shopping mall. In that moment my patience starts to crumble and shatter into pieces; I question myself: hasn’t anyone thought about the access to this attraction in all the time it has been working? Fourth disappointment… but I just let myself go in the human tide.

While I am floating in my ascension to the Propylea I find an unwary couple in the hands of a harpooner[1], someone that offers himself as a tourist guide and identifies himself with an old id card. I remember living the same scene in Pompeii and I wonder why the managers of the Acropolis don’t come to an agreement with these guides and allow them to offer their services with some dignity and with some guarantee for the visitor. Finally I reach the end of the Propylea. To my right the Atenea Niké temple, to my left the Erecteion and in front of me the mighty and impressing Parthenon. I try to find out if there is any recommended route to approach such marvellous site, some tips or advice in how we should tackle such place… nothing, no suggestions are made. Fifth disappointment… but hey no problem: I will make my own route!

The human tide scatters itself in the all over the place and the groups and families wonder around without direction devoted to the main practice in the Acropolis: taking pictures. From time to time I find a mid-aged couple of French tourists reading their guides and enjoying the sense of place, the encounter with one of the most significant places of history of the Western world. I’m decided to find a place where I can sit and plan with the guide my route. But right then I find out that there is not such place; the absence of anywhere to sit in the shadow is annoying although it is May it is really warm. I try to focus on the Parthenon but I can’t, hundreds of things prevent me from doing that: the hustle and bustle, screaming, full litter bins, the whistles of the wards and guides shouting to their groups. Sixth disappointment… but I made my mind: nothing is going to stop me from enjoying the Parthenon, the very experience of being there is worth all this adverse circumstances.

Then I notice the scaffoldings that cover the Parthenon and then I realize that the managers of the Acropolis have one mission: the preservation of the monument. Of course! Now I understand: they focus all their efforts to save the Acropolis from the ruin that time causes on it and the hordes of tourists that try to take it by assault everyday. At last, a satisfaction! There are people worried about taking care of the Parthenon. I didn’t realize it until that moment. Satisfied and comforted by that thought I head towards the museum, amused by the idea of meeting finally the Moscophorus or the marble statues of the Parthenon. As I enter inside the archaic sculpture room I start to tremble again: a woman rushing towards the Rampin Horseman!

It was that precise moment when I had a Revelation that I already experienced in other places: we cannot preserve the heritage without understanding that we preserve it for the people to enjoy it. To communicate the value and significance of a heritage good to the whole society is the best conservation strategy possible.


To end my I would like to ask some questions that lead to discussion. It is necessary that civil society commits itself more with sustainability culture? Is a major commitment between economic development agents and the preservation of territories? Shall we demand more sensitivity to the politicians and heritage professionals towards planning?

If the answer to these questions is affirmative it’s time to ask ourselves. What kind of organization paradigms must be articulated to integrate the heritage in the space planning processes? In other words, how and when shall the agents responsible for the cultural goods meet the agents responsible for territorial organization, so they can elaborate in a systematic about the role of cultural heritage in society? This society has as one of its main contradictions the conflict between territory pillaging and its sustainable use.

[1] Harpooner is the name awarded in Barcelona to those people in the door of a tourist restaurant that tries to “fish” as many customers as he can.

Deja una respuesta

Por favor, inicia sesión con uno de estos métodos para publicar tu comentario:

Logo de

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Salir /  Cambiar )

Imagen de Twitter

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Twitter. Salir /  Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Salir /  Cambiar )

Conectando a %s

Este sitio usa Akismet para reducir el spam. Aprende cómo se procesan los datos de tus comentarios.