Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 11.COM 10.c.2

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Austria has proposed Regional Centres for Craftsmanship: a strategy for safeguarding the cultural heritage of traditional handicraft (No. 01169) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

The Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Hand.Werk.Haus Salzkammergut, and Textiles Zentrum Haslach are three centres in Austria run by local, traditional craftspeople who, for the past 15 years, have been collaborating with international artists, educational institutions, craft businesses and other entities to help safeguard their practices for future generations. The centres have been providing a range of public activities to help maintain the crafts that include woodwork, painting and textile practices, which provide communities with a sense of identity and continuity. Governed by associations in cooperation with craft businesses, as well as educational and scientific institutions, they offer training on traditional techniques, such as introductory courses for primary school students, weekend and summer schools, apprenticeship programmes, and postgraduate courses. Local and international experts help to run the classes, transmitting specialist knowledge and skills associated with the various practices. The centres on craftsmanship also host exhibitions and competitions to enhance visibility of the traditional crafts, attracting local and international designers and artists. Furthermore, they act as bridges between art and industry, providing platforms for the sharing of ideas and experiences on traditional craft practice and the development of cooperative networks. Partnerships between cultural, educational and economic fields are also created, further strengthening safeguarding efforts.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the programme responds as follows to the criteria for selection as a best safeguarding practice in paragraph 7 of the Operational Directives:

P.1:   This initiative concerns three craft centres, initiated and governed by craftspeople, to revitalize and safeguard crafts (under threat by industrialization and trade), in cooperation with craft businesses as well as educational and scientific institutions. The centres provide craftspeople and local communities with a strong sense of identity and continuity. The main activities are described under transmission, documentation and research, innovation, promotion, cooperation (e.g. with universities and a mental hospital), and raising awareness. The three centres adopt successful strategies learnt from each other and act as an advisory service for customers and producers. The centres not only contribute to the continued practice of traditional knowledge and skills of Austrian craftsmanship, but also ensure their ecological and economic sustainability through wide cooperation with educational, medical and academic institutions nationally and beyond, while promoting intergenerational and international dialogue.

P.2:   The file states that the centres have become local social hubs and platforms for sharing best practices, as well as for enhancing the visibility of traditional craftsmanship. A number of collaborative efforts are described (with local businesses, universities, competitions, exhibitions, exchanges of apprentices, invited designers and craftspeople), both with partners in Austria and internationally. Numerous collaborations have strengthened cultural, social as well as economic skills as individual craftspeople, businesses and/or institutions are now working together as equal partners. Regular cultural events allow craftspeople of the three associations to meet their counterparts from other countries, especially in Western Europe. The programme holds potential for more encouraging cooperation in promoting traditional craftsmanship as viable elements of intangible cultural heritage in other countries.

P.3:   The programme reflects the aims and principles of the Convention in several ways, and the submitting State has chosen to underline three aspects: dialogue, diversity and continuity. The initiative fosters dialogue through the creation of networks of artisans; the cooperative management of the centres; collaboration with other disciplines; exhibitions and visits by national and international craftspeople. Diversity is reflected through exchanges among craftspeople; and with visitors from near and far, as well as through the diversity of crafts and techniques being promoted. With regard to continuity and cohesion, the file highlights efforts aimed at safeguarding skills in a changing world; education and training; and the promotion of communities concerned with treating traditional craftsmanship as a symbol of social identity.

P.4:   Given the threats of industrial mass production and low cost imports, the centres have registered success in a number of areas (increased demand for their products and courses; a rising number of trained apprentices; growing membership of the associations; new business partnerships; growing numbers of visitors; and the opening of new craft businesses) and interest in traditional craftsmanship is generally growing. The centres themselves, as well as their projects, are experiencing a rising degree of international attention and collaboration, while engaging in a growing diversity of activities. The effectiveness of this programme has contributed to the viability of both traditional craftsmanship and intangible cultural heritage in general.

P.5:   The file states that the craftspeople, organizations and educational institutions concerned have been involved in the establishment of the centres, as well as in the implementation and management of their activities. The three centres differ slightly in organization (one of them was even built by the craftspeople themselves), but all of them demonstrate clearly how craftspeople and relevant organizations have been part of a continued initiative to establish the centres and work to safeguard intangible cultural heritage. Local communities are also involved in terms of, for instance, the use of volunteers, and enjoyment of the centres for cultural events. The proposal is submitted by the State with the support of the three centres, whose representatives (as well as cooperation partners, an association of friends, and a representative of the municipalities) gave their free, prior, and informed consent to this proposal. Documentation to this effect has been submitted.

P.6:   The file lists current outcomes of the centres’ safeguarding measures to demonstrate that the programme can serve as a viable model for other countries. This is because the centres display a number of replicable characteristics, including being based on local resources and technical know-how; serving local demand; the emphasis on sharing know-how within, among centres and beyond; the permanent involvement of the community; transmission, documentation and promotion mechanisms; and support to individual craftspeople through their own associations. The programme also raises awareness on the sustainable safeguarding of traditional craftsmanship and promotes local development, integrating cultural and economic concerns while fostering respect for human diversity and creativity and an attitude of open-mindedness towards the benefits of foreign influence, through national and international exchanges.

P.7:   The file notes that the centres have already developed various ways to share their experiences, including with educational institutions locally, nationally and internationally (cooperation with universities and schools, as well as apprenticeship schemes), and with the general public (internet platforms and guided tours). The centres have expressed their willingness to continue sharing their experiences and contribute to similar initiatives.

P.8:   The file provides examples of assessments carried out on the performance of the centres. These include periodic internal reviews to assess all activities; the use of social media for visitor feedback; feedback from the wider community; externally driven monitoring mechanisms (arising from government and EU grants) and, in one case, the award of a national quality label for educational courses. Monthly meetings and surveys provide the centres with reports and figures as a basis for planning, sustaining quality and making improved decisions.

P.9:   The file shows that the centres strive to safeguard the knowledge of traditional craftsmanship and improve the quality of life for people living in rural areas – both of which are issues of concern in developing countries. The aims of the programme may, therefore, apply to these countries (creating jobs and thus encouraging young people to stay, collaborative production processes to reduce costs, sustainable use of local resources, and enhanced local pride and identity). While this may be the case, it should be noted that the initiative was not developed to be primarily applicable to developing countries. All activities are, therefore, not necessarily applicable and the requirement of external financial support may constitute an obstacle in this respect.

  1. Selects Regional Centres for Craftsmanship: a strategy for safeguarding the cultural heritage of traditional handicraft as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention and commends the submitting State on a well-researched and well-presented proposal.