Heritage Futures Webinar | ICOMOS Emerging Professionals Working Group

Heritage Futures EPWG WebinarWhat does the future of cultural heritage look like? Is the future relevant for the way we approach heritage? These are two basic questions that the UNESCO Chair for Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University (Sweden) is concerned with. It specialises in thinking about the future of cultural heritage on a global scale. On 29 March 2020, Cornelius Holtorf, Head of the Chair, gave a webinar organised by the Emerging Professionals Working Group (EPWG) via the online service Zoom. More than 100 participants - ICOMOS members and an interested public - from all over the world zoomed into the presentation and its subsequent discussion.

"The future will be different from the present and we don't really know anything about it", said the speaker, and referred to the current situation of the world to illustrate his point. The future is full of unpredictable changes and developments, yet heritage conservation focuses on preserving cultural heritage as long as possible or even forever. The discipline is characterised by the assumption of a kind of "timeless significance" and immutability of cultural heritage. It assumes that what we consider valuable today will be equally relevant in the future. In dealing with cultural heritage, too often the present is taken as a starting point, as can be seen in the way past and future are evaluated. Holtorf calls for this "presentism" to be questioned. In that sense, he asked, "For what future do we want to preserve our heritage and what benefits can future generations derive from cultural heritage? How can our approach to cultural heritage contribute to sustainability?” As an orientation for such action, Holtorf mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as high-quality education or sustainable cities and communities. One should consider to what extent cultural heritage can contribute in different ways to achieving the 17 SDGs.

In response to the audience's observation that further financial cuts in the cultural heritage sector are likely to follow the coronavirus crisis, Holtorf replied that "we will have to deal with issues that are socially relevant". As an example of this, he cited the handling of nuclear waste, which, as a heritage of humanity, must be stored for up to a million years. Even if topics such as this seem beside the point at first, they are relevant and need a solution. After all, heritage is about innovation, and innovation arises in times of crisis. "Crises have positive effects, we will be forced to do work on what is relevant to our society. We cannot simply carry on with business as usual" was the challenging, stimulating and encouraging conclusion that Holtorf sent to a predominantly younger international audience.

The webinar series of the EPWG has been held regularly since 2019. It is intended to provide insights into the different areas of work of ICOMOS through expert presentations by International Scientific Committees and to explore the positioning of ICOMOS in the international discourse on heritage conservation and critical heritage studies.