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THE EXPERT’S VIEW: TOUCH TD


INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE


MODERN CITIES MUST STAY IN TOUCH WITH THEIR HERITAGE AS THEY LOOK TO THE FUTURE, SAYS ANTHROPOLOGIST DR JULIE SCOTT, CO-DIRECTOR OF TOUCH TD


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NESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was famously given its impetus by an urban planning controversy. Te Marrakesh


municipality had embarked on an ambitious programme of urban reform and had in its sights Jamaa’el-Fna Square. Tis traditional gathering place for story-tellers, jugglers, musicians and street entertainers of all descriptions did not fit with the municipality’s vision for a modern, global city, and was to be swept aside to make way for more sanitised retail and leisure opportunities. Te journey of Jamaa’el-Fna from ‘blot on the urban landscape’ to world cultural icon has been salutary in demonstrating that Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) can still have a place in the cities of today and a value within the modern, urban economy, particularly in terms of tourism. It also, however, encapsulates two persistent, underlying and potentially very limiting beliefs about ICH in modern cities. Te first of these is the suggestion that ‘cultural


heritage is what is listed’. As cities compete for markets and inward investment on an increasingly global scale, getting an element of your cultural heritage on a world list can certainly be a major branding coup, but can result in listed expressions monopolising attention and resources (bringing attendant risks of over-exploitation), whilst others are neglected and ignored. Related to this, is the second belief, which could be summarised as ‘the modern has no culture’. In contrast to the built environment ICH is often conceptually linked with ideas of traditions regarded as functionally obsolete in the technological cities of the 21st century. Massive rural-urban migration in recent decades worldwide has also


50 EXPERTVIEW SPRING 2015


reinforced the notion that ‘cultural tradition’ is what has been left behind in the village. Our work over the past twelve years has


convinced us that there is much more to ICH in cities than that. Starting with a multi-sited ethnographic research project Mediterranean Voices, which mapped oral history and cultural practice in 14 Mediterranean cities (including, for these purposes, London, with its extensive Mediterranean communities), we discovered the role of ICH in anchoring stable and mobile populations in their urban environments, and enabling diverse groups to share the city. Tese expressions sometimes, but not always, took the form of the kinds of festivals, performance and practices that lend themselves to listing. Others – such as cinema-going amongst London’s Turkish and Cypriot communities, or street trading in Belsunce, Marseille’s quartier arabe – represented everyday practices which were nonetheless filled with cultural content, and demonstrated the importance of flourishing informal urban spaces for a flourishing civic society. Tese are the very spaces that risk being erased or ignored in urban renewal programmes or the construction of new cities. In 2012 we worked with partners OIKODROM


Vienna and cultural organisations in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine, on a project that was aimed precisely at the retrieval of the informal public realm. In the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the project focused on the cultural potential of the informal spaces created by these unattractive underpasses, which are designed to separate pedestrians from traffic at busy intersections. We established a temporary meeting place,


the Tbilisi Tea Trolley, using a mobile structure designed by Torange Khonsari of publicworks,


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