The past meets the future

The national coordinator of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 Agata Wąsowska‑Pawlik (the director of the International Cultural Centre in Kraków) and Dr Joanna Sanetra‑Szeliga discuss the EYCH 2018.

The European Union has declared 2018 as the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Its aim is to encourage as many people as possible to discover and appreciate European heritage and to strengthen the sense of belonging to a common European space. The Year is also an opportunity to promote the socio‑economic potential of heritage and to strengthen the skills and capacity of the heritage sector. As European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics said, cultural heritage is more than just remembering the past – it is a key to our future. Hence the motto of the Year: “Our heritage: where the past meets the future”, embracing thousands of different cultural events and initiatives organised throughout the European Union, including Poland.

Joanna Sanetra‑Szeliga: We should start our conversation by defining what cultural heritage is. The approach to the legacy of our ancestors has evolved enormously in recent years. Is there a precise definition of heritage, or can anyone define what heritage is for them?

Agata Wąsowska‑Pawlik: Indeed, the concept of cultural heritage has been constantly changing. This is a very mutable term. The notion of cultural heritage derives from the notion of a monument, so it is related to architecture or tangible testimonies of the past. Researchers also stress the importance of intangible heritage, including music, film, digital heritage, cuisine, customs, language. Until now, it was mainly experts who decided what heritage was, but civil society has been increasingly involved in this process for some time. If a local community now wants and strives to preserve a monument or local traditions for future generations, this will probably happen. This is a significant change, showing an increase in the sense of responsibility for the achievements of the past. The most important thing here, and this is what we try to emphasise, is that this concept contains an inalienable social component. This means it includes an element of individual choice for each one of us; a choice of what our cultural heritage is, what we want to be defined by, what constitutes our sense of being a resident of a city, region, or continent.

The scope of the heritage field is still growing. Sharon Macdonald claims that today almost everything can become heritage: both a lawnmower and Pokémon. If heritage were to be an individual choice, we would have something to choose from, but this choice could exclude many areas. So if heritage is a matter of choice, then we can say that certain artefacts from the past, traditions, and images of memory are not our heritage. For example, can we assume that Jewish heritage is not our heritage and that we do not have to deal with it? Or is there a difference between an individually defined heritage and, let’s say, institutionalised heritage?

Indeed, heritage is a multilayered and complex issue. That is why it seems to me that specialists and experts have a huge role to play here. This is the group which recognises the value of our past, our monuments, our intangible heritage. At some point their vision meets individual approaches to the past, which shows that cultural heritage is in fact a matter for every human being, and it highlights the responsibilities that people have to undertake in ensuring that cultural heritage is preserved for future generations. Of course, this very elitist approach, in which it is the experts, i.e. a group of “elders”, who decide what heritage is and what it is not, can be criticised. It may also happen that their choice is very narrow, dictated by specific reasons. The two should therefore be complementary to each other.

This is probably one of the tasks of the EYCH: to show how diverse our heritage is and what builds our identity.

Furthermore, let us remember that the objectives defined in the Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 concerning the European Year of Heritage clearly emphasise the need to encourage as many people as possible to become acquainted with, participate in, use, and promote cultural heritage. The intention of the Decision was to place greater emphasis on the communisation of heritage issues.

I think this is well illustrated by our image‑building campaign, right? We have five posters created by the graphic artist Krzysztof Radoszek, which show, in an unusual and even funny way, how much cultural heritage is part of each one of us. Posters present human figures “dressed” in objects and patterns associated with various manifestations of heritage, representing not only tangible, but also intangible heritage – such as music, symbolised by a sculpture (Chopin’s bust) – or even elements not usually defined as heritage, such as cuisine, the symbol of which is kale, used in our food for centuries, beautifully integrated into the figure of a woman wearing a hat.

This also shows how much the concept of cultural heritage is expanding and how important the whole sphere of intangible heritage is becoming. Objects are okay, but of much greater significance is the meaning attributed to them, as Professor John Tunbridge writes in the collection of essays The Changing of the Guard. Heritage at the Turn of the Century, published by the ICC in connection with the EYCH. He emphasises the importance of the meanings we attribute to individual objects. Meanings that can be given by specialists, conservators, art historians, architects, or historians who professionally deal with this topic, but also by every individual person. The object is important, but even more crucial is its meaning. And that helps us still further to appreciate the significance of intangible heritage.

Let’s talk for a moment about the Year itself, its structure, its goals, and how it has been implemented in Poland.

The EYCH 2018 is an EU initiative, and each EU member state implements its objectives on a voluntary basis, depending on the resources available and on the local context. It is worth emphasising the symbolic dimension of the selected date. 2018 has many symbolic references. First, it is connected with the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence by many Central European countries, which is particularly significant for us in Poland. For other countries it is simply the year to commemorate when the First World War ended, for some it is an anniversary of the need to find their way in the new political order that followed the Great War. It is also the anniversary of the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia. So this symbolism of the Year is very important, but it has made promoting the Year itself and planning financial matters difficult. Looking at Poland now, the International Cultural Centre, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, has set itself the task of reaching the biggest possible number of institutions and organisations that explore cultural heritage on a daily basis with an appeal to join, to promote together, to mention the importance of cultural heritage for each citizen in their projects. I think we have succeeded in that.

The basic instrument we have at our disposal for the EYCH 2018 is the capability to offer patronage of the Year. The response to the appeal you mentioned has exceeded our expectations. The EYCH label does not involve any additional financial benefits. What we have been able to offer was some support in promotional activities on the Internet. And nowadays it is a form of promotion that cannot be ignored. We have over 300 projects with the label, implemented throughout Poland, from very different localities, smaller and larger, from huge conferences or exhibitions to events for a small group of recipients, for example children. It is interesting to note that we have reached quite a wide range of heritage professionals. Official letters were sent mostly to cultural institutions and local government units. However, about 40 per cent of the labelled projects have been implemented by the NGO sector, individuals, and informal groups. I would also like to stress that in the context of the EYCH 2018 we were able to invite a group of representatives of important institutions dealing with heritage and culture – Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa (National Heritage Board), NIMOZ (National Institute for Museums and Public Collections), Narodowe Centrum Kultury (National Centre for Culture), Polish National Commission for UNESCO, The European Commission Representation Office in Poland, Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (Head Office of State Archives), National Digital Archives, ICOM Poland, Association of Monuments Conservators, Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, and Creative Europe Desk Poland at the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

A realistic assessment of the impact EYCH 2018 can have on cultural heritage perception and the scale of participation would have required very detailed studies to be carried out before the start of the Year. For various reasons, such as insufficient time and funds, we were unable to do or commission that. However, I think that even in a small way, through the EYCH label and other means, the message reached a wide range of recipients. I also think that thanks to the programme of events implemented by the ICC throughout Poland, such as the programme of educational workshops for children or seminars on the potential of heritage, in which we tried to convince the participants that cultural heritage is of great importance for social and economic development and – which is extremely important nowadays – that it is the basis for building social trust, we have had an impact on the perception of heritage.

The Internet has made things easier for us. We have not been able to run a billboard campaign throughout the country, nor could we carry out a major social campaign in all major TV stations in Poland. But thanks to the web, especially to social media, we were able to reach many people – we have several thousand people watching our Facebook profile ( ERDK2018), several dozen page views on our Instagram ( erdk2018) and Twitter (https://twitter. com/ERDK2018) accounts.

The Internet was indeed an important instrument for us and thanks to it we also started working with internet influencers. This is particularly true of the Free Pegasus campaign (which has many thematic sections, such as #monumentwithPegasus, #bookloverPegasus), in which we encourage people to use beautiful graphics and visual materials created to promote the EYCH in their activities and on their profiles. For example, we had a huge response from bloggers who write about reading and books. The Free Pegasus action is also a competition for the design of a household item that employs EYCH 2018 visual identity, with the best proposals going into production.
In order to convince people that digital heritage (both digitised and born digital) is heritage too, we announced a second competition: 3D – Dziedzictwo dla dizajnu (Heritage for design), with the aim of designing the visualisation of an original everyday object which uses a creatively processed and interpreted cultural heritage object available in digitised collections of Polish museums and cultural institutions.
But in the EYCH year we have been active not only in the virtual world. We have organised a whole range of seminars, as I have already mentioned, in several large Polish cities (Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Wrocław, Lublin), devoted to various aspects of the impact cultural heritage has on the socio‑economic environment. We talked about creativity, quality of life, identity, and urban narratives, the use of digital resources to increase participation in heritage sites. Our stands were present during many outdoor events. We are very proud that in cooperation with the publishing house Dwie Siostry we managed to publish Zwierzyniec (Menagerie), a book for children that was beautifully illustrated, indirectly showing the great diversity of Polish art, architecture, sculpture and attractively presenting art of the highest quality to children.

The multitude of projects illustrates our efforts to reach as many people from diverse groups as possible with a message of the importance and role of heritage in our lives. That includes: children involved in workshops based on Zwierzyniec in many places in Poland; young people involved in lessons called Use Heritage; the business community during the European Economic Congress and the Open Eyes Economy Summit. Who is the hardest to reach with the EYCH 2018 campaign message?

Paradoxically, the biggest challenge is to reach the adult public, as well as people not directly related to culture and heritage, that is, the business community. And this despite the fact that the issues of corporate social responsibility are widely known and many companies take them seriously. Even in the area of creative industries, which draw directly from the vast cultural heritage, this fact is not fully realised. And yet we can say that without high art, without art in general, there wouldn’t be creative industries. However, I would like to emphasise that announcing such a Year has its great advantages, because the subject of heritage and culture in general has entered the political agenda of EU leaders, which, I hope, will result in further activity in this area. We cannot limit ourselves to just one year! This type of action is always process‑oriented. After all, it is impossible to say that after this year everything will change and all problems will be solved. This year is rather a sort of mobilisation and resolve to carry on, but with a new perspective and increased commitment. The perception of culture and cultural heritage has been slowly but surely changing – you know best how the approach to culture has changed over the last ten years, and the competition for the European Capital of Culture 2016 has made a major contribution to it.

I think that, if heritage issues have been part of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, it means that there has been a huge qualitative change in heritage thinking over the last twelve years. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to reach two groups – as you said, business, but also decision‑makers, officials, local governments. Because those who are directly involved in cultural heritage and culture usually, although not always, recognise the full range of possibilities, the full potential of these spheres, but officials who are involved in other areas, such as transport or environmental protection, fail to see it. The Berlin Call to Action (‑con‑ tent/uploads/2018/09/Berlin‑Call‑Action‑Eng.pdf), whose signatories – organisations, institutions, and individuals – are calling for specific actions to implement in our daily lives the content of the documents concerning the importance of heritage.

Now we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence, and we are looking very closely at the heritage of the interwar period. It is worth remembering that at that time, with a great investment effort and a desire to rebuild or reestablish the state, the law encouraged spending 1% of the investment budget on projects related to art and design. This is the model we should return to. With numerous investments taking place in Poland, both public and private, it is worthwhile to encourage commissioning and purchasing works, projects, and objects designed and produced in Poland.

Let’s come back for a moment to the subject of anniversaries. 2018 is a symbolic year, in which important anniversaries are being celebrated in many countries. Do initiatives such as the Independence Day and the EYCH 2018 not clash or interfere?

Absolutely not. These are complementary initiatives. The EYCH Decision itself noted that “2018 has a symbolic and historical importance for Europe and its cultural heritage” and that “the European Year of Cultural Heritage can therefore offer opportunities to better understand the present through a richer and shared comprehension of the past.” I would say that the EYCH 2018 can put the anniversaries celebrated in 2018 in a broader context. Of course, for Poland the anniversary of regaining independence is symbolically more important. However, any EYCH‑related activities may reinforce this message. I would like to emphasise here that 2018 is an important year for many countries of the region, which is shown in our exhibition, Architecture of Independence in Central Europe, which you can see in the ICC Gallery until 10 February, as I strongly encourage you to do.

Finally, what the coordination of the EYCH 2018 meant for the ICC itself? As you said, heritage activities are a process, so will this issue remain at the heart of the ICC?

For us at the ICC, EYCH 2018 was a fantastic adventure. Since the very beginning of its existence, i.e. for almost thirty years now, our institution has been engaged in a wide‑ranging reflection on cultural heritage. It has always been very difficult for us to “translate” our activities into a language more comprehensible to a wider audience. The ICC is physically located and operates in Kraków, which is why some of our activities, especially in the area of exhibitions and education, are addressed directly to the inhabitants of this city. But we also work in other subject areas. The Year allowed us to reflect on the language in which we communicate our research and networking activities, initiatives related to stimulating and monitoring what is happening in the domain of cultural heritage in Poland and around the world. It confirmed the need to participate in global, European, and Central European intellectual exchange. It is an exchange in which we have to take part in order to feel that the world is not running away from us, and that our voice, the voice of Poland, is audible or at least articulated outside. Of course, we are not in a position to continue with all the elements of the EYCH 2018 programme, but cultural heritage has been and is the keyword for the ICC. And some of the projects will continue to be put into practice. The EYCH was an important experience that taught us a lot. It has also become an inspiration for further work.

Among the projects that will be continued, educational ones are certainly worth a mention, such as heritage lessons, Use Heritage, working with teachers in heritage education, or workshops for children related to Zwierzyniec. As far as new initiatives, inspired to some extent by the EYCH 2018, are concerned, this year we are launching the international research project ILUCIDARE, in which over the next three years we will be looking closely at two dimensions of heritage – its links with innovation (not only technological, but also social) and with heritage diplomacy. This will be a continuation of pursuing the objectives of the EYCH as set out in the Decision which established the Year: to recognise the importance of heritage and culture as an essential element of international relations, and to promote heritage and culture as catalysts for creativity and innovation in a broad sense. As far as the activities at the European level are concerned, the European Heritage Days will certainly continue to be organised every year on two September weekends. The European Heritage Label will also be developed and, during the European Heritage Label: Changes, Challenges & Perspectives conference organised by the ICC for the first time it was the subject of evaluation and exchange of ideas between the representatives of places that the award was granted to and representatives of the panel of experts which awards the title. Consequently, it became an inspiration for this issue of Herito.

AGATA WĄSOWSKA‑PAWLIK – a graduate of art history at the Jagiellonian University. She received scholarships from the Catholic University of Leuven, the US Department of State, and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. She finished the Academy of Leadership Psychology Post‑graduate Study, run by Values Consulting Group together with the Warsaw University of Technology Business School. She has worked at the ICC since 1996. From 2001 to 2017, she was a deputy director for programme policy, responsible for the Centre’s research and exhibition programme. On 30 November 2017 she was nominated as the ICC’s director. She has been holding this position since 2 January 2018.

Translated from Polish by Tomasz Bieroń.