The National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia (‘the National Agency’) is the main competent body for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and directs all major activities, acting under the overall direction of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection. In order to facilitate exchange of information and coordination, an interdepartmental working group was formed in 2011 that includes representatives from ministries, scientific institutions, universities and museums. To operate effectively it works in coordination with government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local self-government institutions and State and non-State institutions. Since 2008, Georgia has been working on a legal framework for cultural heritage that takes into account the development of ICH. This draft law on safeguarding cultural heritage envisages further strengthening of institutional capacities, especially at local level. Efforts have also been made to ensure harmonization of national and international standards as one of the priorities defined by the National Agency. Work is in progress on elaborating the document ‘Guidelines for the Management of Intangible Cultural Heritage’.
The National Agency provides basic training on the nature of ICH, the 2003 Convention and national rules for listing ICH elements. In addition, National Agency specialists provide practical training in identifying ICH elements with priority given to information provision and training for regional and local authorities and communities. Other relevant bodies for specific elements listed in the report are: the Folklore State Centre of Georgia; the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony (Tbilisi State Conservatoire); and the National Wine Agency. However, the scarcity of qualified specialists remains an issue to be addressed and the National Agency is considering cooperation with UNESCO in this direction through regular training workshops and other capacity-building activities.
Documentation on ICH is held by different thematic research institutions and universities. As the institutional system is in the process of formation, the National Agency aims to develop the tool for receiving, systematizing and storing the data and the different methodologies being discussed, e.g. based on geo-information systems. The relevant bodies are: the National Agency; the Folklore State Centre of Georgia; the International Research Centre for Traditional Polyphony (Tbilisi State Conservatoire); and the National Wine Agency. The National Agency assists all interested individuals, groups and organizations in accessing information related to ICH.
The National Agency is working towards transforming and interpreting data held in the aforementioned documentation bodies according to the principles and provisions of the 2003 Convention in order to facilitate the inventorying of elements in the country. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture approved the establishment of the National Register for Intangible Cultural Heritage. ICH elements divided into the following categories for listing: (i) ICH monuments; (ii) endangered ICH; and (iii) national monuments of ICH. The creation of the status of ‘living treasure’ for persons with exceptional skills who contribute to the intergenerational transmission of ICH is also agreed. Communities, civil society groups and relevant thematic research institutions are encouraged to undertake inventorying and to submit proposals for inclusion which are evaluated by the Intangible Heritage Section of the Advisory Council on Cultural Heritage. Two pilot inventories have been carried out by a multidisciplinary group of specialists: (a) territorial pilot inventory in Ateni Valley (Kartly Region) and (b) thematic pilot inventory on the traditions of national textile techniques during which 170 elements were identified, many threatened with disappearance. A more extensive inventory of Upper Svaneti ICH took place in 2014. In 2012–14, several elements were proposed for inscription in the National Register by communities and interest groups.
Other safeguarding measures include promotion and awareness-raising and the National Agency actively carries out information campaigns for the general public through TV programmes, publications and other means, as well as for the ministries related to this field, regional and local self-governing authorities and local communities, etc. Special care is given to raise awareness of the younger generation. For example, an annual competition for secondary schools across the country was used in 2012 to encourage young people to learn about the ICH of their regions and the cultural values of traditions and customs. The collected material was diverse and included traditions related to cuisine, rituals, prayers, curative herbs, artisanal practices and festivals. Regular information and training sessions have been carried out with local communities, culture specialists, students, NGOs, school teachers and other society social groups for raising awareness.
As an educational activity, the National Agency provides information programmes related to ICH for the general public, as well as scientific, educational and research institutions, representatives of local self-governing bodies and other interested groups and individuals. A public information brochure entitled ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia’ includes the text of the Convention translated into Georgian. The National Agency has also cooperated with the National Committee of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Georgia to include ICH in the Teachers Manual on Cultural Heritage (Introduction to elementary and secondary school students) that is an adapted version of The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) publication. As a general approach, Georgia is making effort to ensure the development of effective self-governance, which will encourage local communities to protect their ICH, including folk music traditions.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation the National Agency has launched dialogue with its Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts. In 2012–13, specialists from the Agency participated in an international workshop for South Caucasus region museums on ‘The Interpretation of Intangible Heritage in Museums’ (International Council of Museums projects 2012), as well as a regional workshop organized by the UNESCO National Commission of Turkey on the preparation of a multinational nomination on heritage of Mullah Nasredin. Cooperation has also been instituted between UNESCO and the Tbilisi State Conservatory based on the international inscription of the Georgian polyphonic singing. The Traditional Polyphony Centre also offers a study programme for foreign students in theoretical and practical courses of Georgian musical folklore.
Two Georgian elements have been inscribed on the Representative List, namely: Georgian polyphonic singing (2008) and Ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method (2013).
Several other activities are built around the elements inscribed on the Representative List. In close collaboration with NGOs and state authorities, local communities, tradition bearers and the Patriarchy of Georgia, the National Agency submitted the nomination file for the Ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method. This process provided a possibility for demonstrating the positive aspects of a multidisciplinary approach and collaboration among different state institutions and other actors. For the Georgian polyphonic singing, the State National Folklore Centre carries out yearly expeditions in different regions of Georgia, as well as festivals, competitions, master classes on folk songs, grants national awards to masters of folk song and issues CDs, albums, and books on folk singers. In addition, a number of symposiums have been held once every two years, since 2012, by the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony of Tbilisi State Conservatoire.