Focus on measures taken by State Parties to raise awareness about the importance of intangible cultural heritage (2018)

The Committee requested (Decision 12.COM 8.b) a cumulative focus on measures taken by States Parties to raise awareness of the importance of intangible cultural heritage. This information has been produced in 2018 for its thirteenth session (ITH/18/13.COM/7.a: English|French) 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.

Raising awareness about the importance of intangible cultural heritage, as reported by States, is a preoccupation of diverse stakeholders involved in safeguarding – competent bodies designated for the implementation of the Convention, research and documentation centers, memory institutions (archives, libraries, museums), educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, community centers and associations, and others, either implementing separate activities or establishing partnerships. Regarding the connections with UNESCO-related networks of organizations, Kazakhstan, Mauritania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, for example, have reported on the involvement of UNESCO clubs in awareness-raising activities, whilst Austria and Slovenia have reported on the activities of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network on themes related to intangible cultural heritage.

Concerning measures developed to raise the awareness of the general public, several countries have recognized the primary role of inventories of intangible cultural heritage and their creation in serving as an awareness-raising tool. For example, Algeria considers that the public availability of the inventory contributes to raising the awareness of the general public, while Sweden has stated in its report that inventorying is a constantly evolving process, which is faced with the major pedagogical challenge of disseminating knowledge to a broad audience, and the United Arab Emirates promotes inventories in order to raise awareness at the local and national levels. Uganda considers that the inventory provides a reference point for further research and safeguarding, and Belarus has recognized that the national inventory facilitates the exchange of knowledge and is an excellent educational resource for pupils and students. In addition to inventory-making and education, both having been a subject of previous in-depth studies in the framework of the examination of periodic reports, States have reported on diverse other means to raise awareness about the importance of intangible cultural heritage. In particular, the following types of measures could be explored on account of their frequent presence in the reports: (i) heritage days, weeks and years; (ii) festivals and competitions; (iii) the public recognition of heritage bearers, including Living Human Treasures; and (iv) the communication and engagement of the media, especially radio and television. Other measures have also been adapted, in particular to address specific target groups.

The proclamation of heritage days, weeks and years has been recognized by several countries as an effective means of raising awareness about intangible cultural heritage, both within the State concerned as well as abroad. For example, in some European countries, such as Croatia, France, Hungary, Montenegro and Serbia, European Heritage Days have been used as an occasion for raising awareness about intangible cultural heritage. Switzerland has reported on the activities related to the European Artistic Crafts Days, organized at the regional level within the country and appreciated by the general public. Bangladesh, Slovakia and Serbia have reported on the opportunities to promote intangible cultural heritage at Mother Language Day; and every year a Cultural Heritage Day is celebrated in the Dominican Republic by honouring heritage bearers, while in China activities particularly directed at youth are organized. The celebration of existing National Days may also serve to promote intangible cultural heritage within the country, as stated, for instance, by China, Lithuania, Tonga and the United Arab Emirates. Some other countries have introduced national days, especially for raising awareness about cultural heritage, for example in Argentina (the National Day of the Afro-Argentine and Afro Culture), Guatemala (national days of the Garifuna people and Garifuna woman), Turkmenistan (carpet makers day, the day of specialists of culture and arts, the day of textile workers, the harvest celebration, and others) and Uruguay (the National Day of Candombe, Afro-Uruguayan Culture and Racial Equity). Mali has established a National Week of Cultural Heritage, which is an opportunity to organize conferences, discuss cultural heritage safeguarding, foster the knowledge of younger generations, and engage the public media, and Algeria has developed cultural weeks in each wilaya (province), where cultural associations from different provinces visit one another, thus developing intercultural dialogue. As for yearlong special awareness-raising activities, Lithuania has reported that the proclamation of thematic years by the Parliament serves as an effective awareness-raising tool (for example, the years of dialects, ethnographic regions, communities, and others). Regarding similar activities abroad, Oman, for instance, organizes Omani cultural weeks and days, and India has reported on awareness-raising activities carried out in neighbouring countries on the occasion, for instance, of the International Day of Yoga.

Continuing existing festivals and initiating new ones is a widespread awareness-raising approach. Intangible cultural heritage-related festivals have been mentioned by almost all States who have submitted their reports so far. Organizing competitions is also an important means of raising awareness, and several States have reported on contests as an efficient measure for addressing children and youth. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, small design competitions or exhibitions of children’s paintings inspired by intangible cultural heritage elements are used to attract preschool children. In Zimbabwe, an annual dance competition program is organized for primary schools. Georgia has introduced annual competitions on intangible cultural heritage for secondary schools across the country, with a high level of participation. As recognized by Belgium, new initiatives, such as a competition for the best float design, ensure greater involvement from schools and the constant participation of young people. Latvia has reported on competitions as part of interest-related education for children and youth; and Bulgaria organizes a television competition for children performers of traditional music. According to Serbia‘s report, competitions have derived from the interest of local communities and are an important factor for raising awareness, particularly to attract youth; and in the United Arab Emirates, competitions for youth are organized in particular to ensure the transmission of knowledge about children’s games and performing arts. Competitions are sometimes part of the intangible cultural heritage element itself. As described by Kyrgyzstan, public competitions of akyns-improvisers of aitysh (a song duel between akyns, one of the traditional forms of the oral Kyrgyz folk song poetry) are held during national festive events. On other occasions, competitions may serve revitalization purposes. A competition of storytellers from different regions was organized as a television program in Morocco, demonstrating their skills and expertise, and encouraging bearers and the younger generation to become more interested and ensure transmission. Annual competitions of epic tellers are held also in Uzbekistan while in Turkey story-telling competitions are held in elementary schools. Competitions as a measure for the revival of storytelling have also been reported by a State non-Party to the Convention, the Russian Federation, when reporting on its two inscribed elements. In Spain, in the province of Valencia, international competitions of contemporary music are organized for composers, in order to raise awareness about traditional instruments: the dolçaina and the tabal.

As for the modes of public recognition of heritage bearers – private skilful persons experienced in intangible cultural heritage safeguarding – in several States such recognition is expressed on the occasion of various events. For instance, in Bangladesh, competitions of traditional performing arts are organized, and prizes are given to the best performers. An award granted to commendable performers in traditional music in Norway and Sweden, as well as the ’Young Master of Folk Art’ title in Hungary, are long-lasting approaches that were established several decades ago, before the adoption of the Convention, and still ensure public recognition. Some States have established systems of honouring and awarding heritage bearers, sometimes also providing social benefits. For example, in Djibouti there is an honorary distinction established as a prestigious recognition for contributions to the safeguarding and development of culture. In India, national awards in the field of performing arts are also applied to intangible cultural heritage, while in Kazakhstan several awards are given on a yearly basis to creative heritage bearers, which is complemented by additional funds and social benefits.

Systems inspired by the former UNESCO program ‘Living Human Treasures’ have been established in countries of diverse regions. Turkey has integrated such a system into its national inventory; the criteria include excellence in the practical application of related knowledge, and a person or group’s dedication to their specialized area. Respective titles are attributed to bearers that have a well-recognized track record in the field of craft production in Argentina; practitioners who are legends in their craftsmanship in Nigeria; private and legal persons famous for their knowledge and skills in various fields of intangible cultural heritage in Mali; and people and communities who safeguard meaningful manifestations of intangible cultural heritage, including cultural expressions in danger of disappearing, in Chile. In addition to possible financial assistance for transmission, respective titles are followed by specially developed awareness-raising activities, for instance in the form of publications and workshops. As recognized by the Republic of Korea, such title serves as an encouragement to hand down respective skills; and according to Romania, this type of program constitutes an excellent opportunity to underline the creative role of several exceptional performers. Comparable systems of recognition have also been adopted in Bulgaria, Czechia and Estonia – in the latter case for those who significantly contribute to safeguarding local culture and language; and similar systems have also been drafted in Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic and Morocco, in order to promote bearers and practitioners.

The role of communication and engagement of the media, especially radio and television, have been emphasized by several reporting countries. For example, Bangladesh, Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda have reported that both print media and electronic media have played an important role in raising awareness. As reported by Bosnia and Herzegovina, such media are addressed and used directly by local communities to promote their intangible cultural heritage; and Croatia, Honduras and Japan, for instance, have mentioned the role of local newspapers, among other media. Overall, the contribution of print media is less visible in the reports, whereas States give priority to radio and television, and online communication tools are also widespread, particularly for the inventories. For example, Kazakhstan has developed a Cultural Heritage portal, providing a variety of audio, video recordings and photographic materials. Social networks are mentioned in the reports, but to a significantly lesser extent. Djibouti and Uganda have highlighted the overarching importance of the use of local languages for communication concerning intangible cultural heritage safeguarding.

In several cases, special attention is paid to radio and television, and heritage-related programs and channels are being established. For example, a weekly radio program on intangible cultural heritage and the 2003 Convention has been developed in Uganda, and private radios are involved in the documentation and dissemination of intangible cultural heritage in Mauritania. Algeria, Burundi, Mali, Mexico and Spain have highlighted the importance of community and local radios, and Latvia has given the example of an online folk music radio station. As for television, in Oman a series of radio and television programs introduce arts, poetry and folk songs to a wide audience, and the Oman Cultural Channel was launched to highlight Omani heritage, both tangible and intangible. Similarly, the Cultural Heritage Channel has been established in the Republic of Korea, and special television programs are also broadcasted, for example in Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Panama and the Central African Republic, which has radio and television programs on themes related to indigenous and minority populations. In its report, Mongolia underlined that its national inventory has been broadly promoted through radio and television, and, as recalled, for instance, by Poland and Turkmenistan, radio and television archives are a valuable and growing source of recordings of customs and celebrations and of documentaries related to different aspects of intangible cultural heritage. However, Lebanon raised concerns about the availability of such archives, either of public or private radio and television channels.

In addition to awareness-raising measures directed at the general public, States have also reported on targeting different groups and adapting awareness-raising measures accordingly. To enhance the transmission of cultural heritage, intergenerational dialogue has been strengthened. For instance, Belarus and Jamaica have emphasized the involvement of youth in the documentation of intangible cultural heritage, thus raising respect for elders; and the Syrian Arab Republic has organized debate competitions to engage youth in public discussions on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. To create favourable conditions for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, the capacities of decision-makers are being built at various levels. For example, Mauritania and the Republic of Korea have emphasized the importance of addressing politicians, government officials and other leaders. Poland has emphasized regional workshops and Uganda has stressed the importance of raising awareness and strengthening the role of local governments in particular. Mali and Tonga have reported on regional awareness-raising programs with the participation of district officers, while Lithuania underlined the importance of raising the awareness of specialists working in protected natural areas, which are also important for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.

In addition to the aforementioned measures, some States have emphasized that awareness-raising initiatives also contribute to social cohesion. Mali has recognized the role of intangible cultural heritage for mediation in conflict situations and for building social cohesion in post-conflict situations and has underlined the importance of overcoming misinterpretations of traditional practices in relation to religions. The latter aspect was also reported, for instance, by Bangladesh. Greece has highlighted the contribution of intangible cultural heritage to social cohesion, especially rural communities that are rapidly depopulated; and intangible cultural heritage has also been used to communicate about socially important health issues, such as HIV and AIDS in Uganda. Some States have underlined the contribution of concrete elements of intangible cultural heritage to building social cohesion. Croatia recognized that the Procession Za Krizen (‘following the cross’) on the island of Hvar serves as a link between the Hvar people living on the island and those who have emigrated; in Ecuador, the traditional weaving of the Ecuadorian toquilla straw hat has a symbolic characteristic that encourages social cohesion between the groups who are custodians of this art, becoming an element of identity and cultural continuity. Uruguay has recognized that Candombe and its socio-cultural space have helped strengthen the coexistence of citizens through musical and choreographic practice. Malawi has reported on the Lohmwe people strengthening connections among themselves and with other community groups through intangible cultural heritage, while Lithuania recognized the contribution of the Baltic Song and Dance Celebration to consolidating community ties.

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