Care about heritage, care about friendship.
How do you preserve the universal value of World Heritage? By fostering local values and creating bonds of friendship. This was the main insight behind several workshops I facilitated as part of a week-long training for young heritage professionals in Zadar (Croatia), organised within the framework of the UNESCO-EU joint project ‘Engaging Youth for an Inclusive and Sustainable Europe’.
European Young Heritage Forum
Last week, 28 young heritage professionals – one from each European Member state – came together in Zadar to take part in the ‘European Young Heritage Professionals Forum’. The forum was designed to train selected talents, with backgrounds varying from archaeology to museology to visual computing, in dealing with the management, protection and communication of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. During five days of tailored activities in a peer-to-peer learning environment and accompanied by experts in both the 1972 and the 2003 UNESCO Conventions, the young professionals learned about World Heritage and living heritage in Europe. The forum was hosted by the Croatian Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, and developed in close cooperation with the wonderful NGO Diadrasis.
Emotion Design Workshops under Pressure
I was invited to give a 2-day workshop on how to raise awareness amongst local communities for heritage protection. Two Croatian serial UNESCO World Heritage listings served as case studies: the Defensive Walls of Zadar (a Venetian military urban defense system from the 16th century) and the Art of Dry Stone Walling (a regional building tradition imbued with local values). For both these case studies, the students had to develop strong interpretive concepts and awareness activities using the Emotion Design method of Studio Louter as their guide. This is a method developed by Studio Louter, which ensures the creation of meaningful visitor experiences through stimulating emotional responses. The students then had to immediately implement these activities the next morning in the city centre of Zadar. It was designing under pressure, taken to its extreme, but the students were up to the task.
By focusing on designing emotional visitor experiences that encapsulated the local social values of World Heritage, the four groups of students groups managed to create activities that were quick, satisfying, effective and engaging – which was truly inspiring to witness. One group invited students to celebrate bonds of friendship on the Zadar City wall – a wall that used to divide people, but that now formed a meeting place for international youth. Another group asked inhabitants to inscribe, on stones, the life lessons that they learned from their grandparents. These stones and messages were then used by a local NGO in the construction of a dry stone wall, thereby creating a tangible monument to the intangible tradition that lies at the core of dry stone walling – that of transferring intergenerational knowledge.
Caring about friendships
The activities were beautiful , but the most important result were the dialogues and exchanges between participants and the friendships that were formed. Friendship and mutual understanding as both the goal, and prerequisite, of cultural heritage care. Or as Victoria Kelly, one of the participants, puts it; ‘Heritage as a way to understand each other better’. Such a message can not be explained, only experienced – something that the organisers of this forum understood very well. Emotion Design at its best.