Integration of ICH safeguarding into cultural policies: a cumulative in-depth study of periodic reports

The Committee requested (Decision 10.COM 6.a) a cumulative focus on measures taken by States Parties concerning the integration of intangible cultural heritage and its safeguarding in cultural and other policies. This information has been produced in 2016 for its eleventh session (ITH/16/11.COM/9.a: الإنجليزية|الفرنسية) and the content has been extracted on this page for broader consultation and visibility.

Click on concerned countries to read the full reports of submitted by States Parties.

General remarks

States Parties are implementing the Convention within a great variety of contexts, with differences related to political structures, social realities, geographical and environmental factors and other issues. Federal states, such as Argentina and the United Arab Emirates face a particular challenge in building a coherent and evenly spread institutional approach to intangible cultural heritage safeguarding given their distinct levels of government. As a consequence, there are a wide variety of responses to the challenges of implementing the Convention at the national level. If we look at the national policy environment, we can observe that intangible cultural heritage has become a priority line of action within the national development planning in several States Parties over the past ten years or so. The previous five reporting cycles showed that almost 75% of the reporting States had established some kind of new policy on intangible cultural heritage safeguarding, and many of them reported on its integration also into other policy areas. Some others had or were developing new legislation (Argentina, Georgia, Luxemburg, Monaco and the United Arab Emirates) which implies some policy framework is in place.

Both the diversity of approaches towards policy-making for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and the degree to which this is being devolved to decentralized political levels (as in Flanders, in particular) are characteristic aspects of the implementation of the Convention in a number of States Parties. This decentralized focus, as well as the cross-cutting nature of intangible cultural heritage, has had significant implications for the ways in which States Parties address its safeguarding. The experiences detailed below suggest that it is extremely difficult to confine intangible cultural heritage-related policies within a strictly cultural framework.

In some, although few, cases such as Brazil, intangible cultural heritage has been well-integrated into other policy areas, such as the environment, social development, agriculture, genetic resource management and local economic development. This has been formalized in one or two countries into inter-agency initiatives, as in Brazil and Panama, commonly between Ministries of culture, education, social development, indigenous affairs, environment, agriculture, tourism and health (e.g. providing micro-credit loans to rural women or marketing and promoting traditional handicrafts and organizing festivals). However, this type of cross-sectoral arrangement remains very challenging in many countries with different systems.

Another important aspect of policy making related to intangible cultural heritage has been its devolution to regional and municipal authorities being tasked with policy making. This has often taken place as part of a broader regional and local (social and economic) development strategy, whereby the strategy taken for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage has been explicitly married to local development initiatives, as in Greece. Fostering interdisciplinary collaborations over traditional knowledge relating to natural resources and hazards in Austria and finding new approaches towards sustainable resource management and supporting small cultural tourism enterprises in Morocco are some of the examples reported. The devolving of policy-making has also had the effect of allowing local communities, cultural associations and other non-governmental bodies to become more closely involved in the process. This approach also reflects the fact that, for a number of countries in different regions, intangible cultural heritage represents an important vehicle for inter-cultural dialogue between various ethnic groups (in Mexico and Peru, for example) and a means of improving the visibility and status of ethnic minorities, as in Armenia. Policies may implicate intangible cultural heritage as a basis for identity and, as in Guatemala, aim to strengthen social cohesion through recognizing and valuing the diversity expressed in this heritage.

Intangible cultural heritage is commonly seen as a social and economic as well as a cultural resource and it is recognised that intangible cultural heritage elements can be pivotal in achieving economic growth and sustainable development. In Nigeria, cultural industries have been established by the central Government and handed over to regional and local governments in order to create an enabling environment for intangible cultural heritage elements to be learnt and practised. Handicrafts (often allied with tourism) are regarded by many countries as a strategic entry point for their importance as an economic activity as well as their social and cultural meanings. Policies often seek to combine the mixed cultural and economic character of this heritage and may, as in the Philippines, promote intangible cultural heritage both across the different ethno-linguistic and economic groups. Other economic-based or oriented policy approaches include making partnerships with the private sector (in Spain and Turkey) in order to increase public access to cultural services, as well as harnessing infrastructural development for intangible cultural heritage and its potential to contribute generally towards development programmes.

Cultural policies

The following are common priorities in implementing the Convention as expressed by States Parties in the 2011-2016 reporting cycles:

  • The identification and inventorying of intangible cultural heritage is considered by most States Parties as integral to safeguarding.
  • Awareness-raising about and the promotion of intangible cultural heritage are also leading priorities, often aligned with formal and non-formal educational programmes.
  • Research and documentation continue to be important activities, contributing to identification and safeguarding measures.
  • Education (formal and non-formal) and training are viewed as a means of capacity building, promotion and transmission of intangible cultural heritage, with bearer communities directly involved to a larger or lesser degree.
  • The recognition and/or support of ‘Living Human Treasures’ (leading exponents of intangible cultural heritage elements) is a popular approach employed in several States Parties (e.g. Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire and Turkey).

In some States Parties, developing cultural policies for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage has led to a deep consideration of fundamental concepts, including the notions of ‘safeguarding’ and ‘intangible cultural heritage’, as in France, and seeking to develop new methodological approaches and criteria for identification and safeguarding. The approaches created tend to represent a mix of existing methods and new ones specific to the requirements of intangible cultural heritage. This aspect of heritage has required most States Parties to provide a methodological framework for the actions of the public administration, private bodies and society in general, an approach which is well-developed in the case of Spain. Iceland, for instance, has not yet developed a specific policy framework, relying on an existing legislative framework, but the vast majority of States Parties have developed some form of policy approach.

In some countries, such as Luxemburg, policy-making has been exclusively or mainly targeted towards nationally and/or internationally inscribed elements. Intangible cultural heritage has also provided multi-ethnic States with an opportunity to raise the profile of minority heritage elements and to give a prominent role to inter-ethnic and inter-cultural diversity in their cultural policy-making, as in Peru, especially with regard to indigenous communities; in Hungary, a strong emphasis is also given to the intangible cultural heritage of the Hungarian communities abroad. Cultural policies related to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage may be perceived as protecting a national cultural identity in the face of other, dominant cultural influences (e.g. Mongolia) and frequently focus on intangible heritage associated with minority, often indigenous, languages, as in Guatemala and Zimbabwe. There is also an attempt to create a close integration between education and culture, especially for children, in all areas of cultural policy-making. Sometimes, this may be achieved through the broad participation of the Ministry of Education (possibly with other Ministries), governmental and academic institutions, civil society associations and individual experts and aimed not only at education but also at the transmission of cultural traditions among younger and school-aged children.

The focus of cultural policies has also shifted to some degree such that efforts to implement the Convention have moved from simply determining the cultural values and ensuring their viability towards the people themselves who maintain the culture. This leads to policies in which citizens participate as fundamental actors in the process, moving from being the object of policies to being the main subjects in them. Despite this general shift in focus, some policy approaches still tend to be built primarily around ethnographic research and place a great emphasis on documentation and recording rather than on enhancing the social and cultural dimensions of intangible cultural heritage in the community.

It is worth pointing out that States Parties have also sought to include intangible cultural heritage in cultural policy-making with regard to issues not explicitly addressed in the text of the Convention. A case in point is given by policies developed for the promotion of indigenous and minority languages as a form of intangible cultural heritage per se (going beyond the approach of the Convention that refers to ‘oral expressions and language as a vehicle for intangible cultural heritage’) and religious heritage as in Peru and Zimbabwe, respectively. A further area in which many States Parties, including the Seychelles, have established policies (and legislation) relates to providing intellectual property protection for the artistic creations and traditional knowledge that constitute intangible cultural heritage. Some States also include elements within their definition of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ that may no longer be practised or whose transmission has been interrupted (as in Belarus).

Other policy-making areas

A significant aspect of the policy-making associated with intangible cultural heritage safeguarding is its integration into other, predominantly development-oriented, areas of government action beyond the culture sector. In this way, cultural development can be seen as part of an integrated approach towards achieving sustainable development and better living standards, especially for marginalized communities. For example, Panama has instituted a national dialogue in order to contribute to socio-cultural, economic, political, spiritual and operational development while, in Norway, a number of institutions and organizations receive public funding for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. A few States Parties, in particular Brazil, have taken a rather broad approach in which this is incorporated into several policy-making areas (such as environmental protection, tourism and health) and have even created specific inter-ministerial structures for this purpose. This approach responds well to the procedural requirement to strengthen cooperation between different branches of Government in line with goals of sustainable development.

Harnessing intangible cultural heritage for development is seen in a prominent place and is now included in some States Parties’ national development strategies (as in Bulgaria and Mongolia) where it may be regarded as a driver for sustainable development at the community and/or regional levels. Hence, a major policy priority in implementing the Convention is now finding potential synergies between intangible cultural heritage and sustainable development. One example of this is the project in Austria for networking between tourism experts and local communities to create a strategy for sustainable tourism built around intangible cultural heritage. Another example is a Cultural Guards Training Programme in Honduras that has been offered for park rangers which focuses on intangible cultural heritage but also provides employment in a disadvantaged region as well as environmental protection.

Measures for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage are commonly allied with rural development policies. This has been achieved by providing funding to rural communities and small towns and villages with intangible cultural heritage elements (in Belarus, Cyprus and Hungary). Related actions include encouraging rural communities to practise and show-case their intangible cultural heritage in festivals and fairs and, in Lithuania, safeguarding the rights of farmers and rural communities through creating a database of traditional agricultural and other products. In general, the potential contribution that intangible cultural heritage can make to local economies, especially through handicraft production and tourism, is a basis for rural development policy-making in many countries. It is notable that the strong focus on rural heritage does not yet appear to have been matched by policies seeking to harness the potential of intangible cultural heritage for urban regeneration and social cohesion.

As one of the main pillars of sustainable development, its economic development potential has been the focus of many countries’ intangible cultural heritage policy-making. Approaches have included supporting the production, distribution and marketing of the products of craft industries (e.g. in Turkey) and training artisans in market trends, product design, packaging and market access (e.g. in Pakistan). Turkey has incorporated intangible cultural heritage into certificated vocational education initiatives (for handicraft skills, food preparation, agriculture, interior design, fashion and textile design etc.) for a variety of social groups. In Armenia, these initiatives also include vulnerable persons and people with disabilities.

Some policy approaches, as in Cote d’Ivoire and Switzerland, demonstrate a strong appreciation of the relationship between intangible cultural heritage and the natural environment and its resources. In this context, the importance of traditional knowledge relating to natural resources and hazards and finding new approaches towards sustainable resource management can be a safeguarding policy priority. This may be expressed, for example, through the safeguarding of traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in Panama and a focus on the traditional ecological knowledge held by pastoralists and nomads in Mongolia. Other schemes include programmes for revitalizing traditional crafts and identifying intangible cultural heritage in national parks (in Switzerland) and encouraging rural communities to demonstrate and practise their heritage. Efforts made by some States Parties (e.g. Lithuania) to build databases of traditional agricultural products suggest that the economic value of these is also seen as an important aspect of their safeguarding.

The potential of intangible cultural heritage to contribute to social and community development policies has also been recognized in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, where intangible cultural heritage is an important social resource in such varied fields as traditional medicine, agriculture and metallurgy. Relevant initiatives have included encouraging social participation, and one community development project in the Syrian Arab Republic has been built around using intangible cultural heritage towards the socio-economic development of the local community. Generally speaking, community participation is recognized as a procedural principle for policy-making and implementation related to intangible cultural heritage, although the degree of direct involvement is variable.

In addition, intangible cultural heritage plays a central role in resolving social conflicts and creating social harmony, as noted by Kyrgyzstan. Methods of conflict prevention and resolution that are traditionally used by different ethnic groups that have been living on the same territory for many centuries are recognized in Burkina Faso and valued as intangible cultural heritage. State authorities may even rely upon bearers of intangible cultural heritage, such as the griots (masters of words) of West Africa, and religious leaders to mediate in conflicts between the State, civil society and unions or to resolve conflicts between neighbouring communities over natural resources.

Community involvement plays a central role in the implementation of the Convention. For civil society organizations to be able to actively participate in driving policy development as well as implementing actions, an open and dialogue-oriented governance system is required. Areas in which community involvement has been evidenced in particular are community-based educational, training and promotional activities and involving community members in identifying, inventorying, researching and documenting intangible cultural heritage. One means of achieving this in Cyprus has been to encourage communities to submit concrete safeguarding plans and proposals for funding (e.g. to hold festivals, buy equipment) and to prioritize funding to communities with recognized intangible cultural heritage. In Panama, it has been encouraged by establishing dialogue with groups and communities, as well as civil society bodies (cultural associations and non-governmental organizations, in particular).

Non-governmental organizations have been seen to provide a useful bridge between State authorities and intangible heritage bearers (both in dialogue but also in undertaking implementing actions). Interestingly, these organizations are now often a repository of knowledge and expertise that allows them to provide support and advice to both sides, namely governmental authorities and communities. In countries with dedicated Ministries or Agencies for Indigenous Affairs, these can also play an important bridging role between the cultural agencies and indigenous communities, as seen in Brazil.

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