Yesterday in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and today in Ukraine, the risks to cultural heritage have never been more acute. The proceedings of a colloquium held during the French Presidency of the European Union provide an opportunity to take stock.
Climate, digital, pandemic and, of course, military… the list of risks to cultural heritage is as long as the innovative responses at national and European level are numerous. Organized during the French Presidency of the European Union, the symposium «Heritage, archives, architecture, museums: what risks, what experiences in Europe?» , held on 24 and 25 March at the National Heritage Institute in Paris, was a very valuable forum for exchanges and discussions between the countries of the European Union and their partners.
On the occasion of the publication of the proceedings of the colloquium, Bruno Favel, Head of the World Heritage Mission at the Directorate-General for Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, discusses the scope and richness of this very rich document, which presents an unprecedented - and exciting - synthesis of the issue.
What is the context that led to the conference «Heritage, archives, architecture, museums: what risks, what experiences in Europe»?
As a preamble, I would like to point out that, during a Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the objective is not so much to advance one’s ideas as to propose a theme in order to stimulate exchange and to know the positions of the various countries of the Union on this issue. Roselyne Bachelot, then Minister of Culture, wished that heritage be one of the priorities of the French Presidency of the European Union, held from January 1 to June 30, 2022. The World Heritage Mission organized three conferences: "The European Heritage Label: Taking stock of the 10 years of existence" (27-28 January 2022 in distance), "Heritage, archives, architecture, museums: what risks, what experiences in Europe?" (24-25 March, National Heritage Institute) and “Museums in Europe: what challenges for the future?” (3-4 May 2022, Centre Pompidou).
The topic of risks is very topical. It has been the subject of many conferences in France and Europe, as it was a few days ago under the Czech Presidency. It seemed appropriate to us to approach it in a way common to all the areas of competence of the Directorate-General for Heritage and Architecture: heritage, architecture, archives and museums. The symposium, which aimed to offer a space for exchange and sharing of experiences, echoed this. It was a great success, bringing together 150 representatives of all heritage institutions – States, European Union, Council of Europe, ICCROM, UNESCO, ICOM and ICOMOS – of civil society, including Europa Nostra, as well as European and international experts and personalities. We had chosen this topic in 2021 but the current events have cruelly caught up with us: this symposium was held only a month after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Unfortunately, as we all know, Ukrainian heritage has been targeted. Before the Ambassador of Ukraine to France, the Minister of Culture and all the speakers expressed their indignation and solidarity with the Ukrainian people and professionals.
How is the notion of risk to heritage now understood at European level?
We know that heritage, architecture, archives and museums are subject to many risks: pandemic, climate, digital, loss of knowledge and know-how, damage and destruction, over-use, under-useattendance, etc. But we also know that they offer solutions, innovative and inspiring responses to fight crises. European texts have been adopted to demonstrate the role of heritage as an economic, strategic, tourist and sustainable resource for Europe. The European Commission has done a remarkable job, funding research projects, like the «Horizon Europe» programme, to exchange, pool efforts, draw inspiration from existing and imagine innovative responses. The Council of Europe has adopted a European Heritage Strategy for the 21st Century which also takes into account this theme of risks.
We wanted to participate in this dynamic: to offer a time for reflection and exchange, national and European, to compare our perceptions, improve our knowledge, better anticipate and fight against the types of risks on which we have chosen to work, and present some iconic experiences. Greece, for example, has developed sophisticated and efficient fire plans for its historic monuments, while Finland has implemented an environmental and heritage strategy for the preservation of buildings.
The State remains sovereign when it comes to heritage protection but is increasingly supported by the European Union.
Absolutely and he can count on precious relays. I salute the memory of Pierre de Lagarde who has just disappeared, producer of the show Masterpieces in peril which was a landmark in France. Alongside the state, the European Union continues to grow. Regardless of the partnership with civil society, the Belgian Presidency in 2010 was a turning point: we realized that the European Union, which is a formidable institution to generate mechanisms draining economic, social, and sustainable policies, could also play this role in heritage. No one today is surprised that it helps in this kind of structuring.
How was the symposium designed within DGPA?
DGPA wanted to capitalise on the experiences of recent years on the subject in France and Europe. Starting in 2021, at the initiative of the World Heritage Mission and at the request of the Director General of Heritage and Architecture, all DGPA services – heritage, architecture, museums and archives – have been associated with reflections to identify the many threats that weigh on our sectors. Under the guidance of Orane Proisy, an analysis has made it possible to select a few risks chosen for their relevance, their timeliness or their transversality and thus define six round tables. Five of them were co-piloted by DGPA services, the last by the Ambassador of France to UNESCO to refine, describe and problematize the reflection, research the tools, the remedies existing in France or Europe. European and international experts were involved in each round table and enriched the reflection. This preparatory work was exciting.
The proceedings of the symposium are now accessible to all. Why do you think this publication is important?
It is important to preserve our heritage to which European citizens are so attached. I come back to the news. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that heritage will always be affected by conflicts: if there are long phases of prosperity, violence and threat are always there. Apart from this exceptional situation, there is also this threat that has been intensifying ever since the conference of individuals who enter museums and engage in acts of degradation on works. Also, even if this symposium was aimed at heritage professionals, we wanted to keep track of these exchanges given the very high quality of the interventions. We must continue these cooperation, awareness-raising and exchange actions in Europe in order to encourage a broad mobilization of the European community, optimize the intervention chains and improve governance. It is essential to raise awareness and mobilize heritage professionals, elected officials and the public, because we all have a role to play in this context, in order to better anticipate, manage and react to emergency situations. Jean-François Hébert, Director General of Heritage and Architecture, is fully aware of these issues and I would like to express my gratitude to him.
Better protecting Europe’s heritage from risks
The colloquium "Heritage, archives, architecture, museums: what risks, what experiences in Europe?", which was held on 24 and 25 March 2022, in Paris, as part of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, was intended to enable European heritage administrations, professionals and representatives of heritage civil society to share their experiences on the risks that threaten the various heritage sectors and to exchange good practices in a cross-cutting approach.
This symposium brought together experts, specialists and European and international personalities, representatives of heritage institutions (European Commission, Council of Europe, International Centre for the Study of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, UNESCO, International Council of Museums, International Council of Monuments and Sites) and representatives of civil society.
Several themes were addressed, including the impacts of the health crisis, sustainable development or resilience, natural or climate change-related risks, risks related to day-to-day management, fire or man-made causes, the fight against illicit trafficking or damage to heritage, the over-use of tourism or the disappearance of certain know-how.