Fair and Inclusive Access to Cultural Heritage: ICHCAP attended International Conference at Ahmedabad University

Participants of the 3rd International Conference on Heritage Management Education and Practice ⓒCentre for Heritage Management, Ahmedabad University

ICHCAP attended the third International Conference on Heritage Management Education and Practice from 6 to 8 December 2019, which was hosted by the Centre for Heritage Management at Ahmedabad University. The conference brought together over a hundred participants, including professors, students, and researchers, to discuss fair access and inclusion of those involved in managing and safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

Expanding access while preserving specific heritage is not easy. They even appear to be irreconcilable, when ‘access’ is understood as something physical. Access, however, encompasses a variety of aspects, including wheelchair access to heritage and other physical considerations, as well as access to information and technology and issues of communication. The conference paid particular attention to virtual reality (VR) technology contributing to positive awareness of and greater access to cultural heritage through interaction among communities. Some of the limitations of the technology due to the lack of practical experience were also discussed.

Ahmedabad, the venue of the conference, became the first city in India to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage City List in 2017. Dr. Ashoke noted that the city does not just refer to the physical place but also includes intangible factors, such as the people who live in it, the culture that they create and transmit, and the resulting identity, desires, and feelings, while pointing out limitations of the binary approach to tangible and intangible forms of heritage. Dr. Parul argued that changes should not be seen as the enemy of heritage safeguarding and that heritage management should begin with an understanding of the context while emphasizing not just the importance of artificial ‘protection’ or ‘preservation’ of something in its original form but also the need to accept natural changes and try to keep precious values in the process.

To ensure such an integrated perspective for tangible and intangible heritage is put into practice, stakeholders should be allowed to participate in the overall decision-making process, which includes the planning of safeguarding activities, and the process itself should be fair as well. The management and safeguarding of cultural heritage that does not involve the concerned community would lead to a severance with the historical context and a social exclusion. Snigdha Bisht, Cultural Programme Officer of the UNESCO New Delhi Office, explained the concept of inclusiveness stated in the 2003 Convention, which incorporates community engagement and the ethical principles for the safeguarding of ICH. She also introduced accessibility-as-inclusion for cultural heritage, which was applied to the Anubhav gallery project for visitors particularly with disabilities, a joint initiative of the UNESCO New Delhi Office and the National Museum in New Delhi.

ICHCAP’s Presentation on its ICH Safeguarding Activities ⓒ ICHCAP

During a special session, ICHCAP delivered a presentation on its activities designed to disseminate ICH information and experience and enhance its value through cooperation with various stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region. ICHCAP has been encouraging stakeholder participation in ICH safeguarding through networks among the center, government agencies, NGOs, research institutions, universities, UNESCO offices, communities, and other stakeholders. In 2020, ICHCAP will launch a platform to share ICH information for more effective distribution of ICH information and good practices in the region through greater access to information.

Meanwhile, various side events, including an exposition, took place to allow conference participants and local artists to meet with each other. Khayall, which was founded by graduates of Ahmedabad University, joined the exposition as a social enterprise that makes and sells various artifacts made with traditional Indian craft skills to promote public value of cultural heritage. Happy Faces offers a model for sustainable life through craft, as it sells craft items of local women in Ahmedabad to help them secure employment and thus become self-reliant.