Monday, 3 November 2014

Nara + 20: Stakeholders, communities, and authenticity

( by VY-ProjM public domain)
Nara+20 was drafted in English and adopted by the participants at the Meeting on the 20th Anniversary of the Nara Document on Authenticity, held at Nara, Japan, from 22-24 October 2014, at the invitation of the Agency for Cultural Affairs (Government of Japan), Nara Prefecture and Nara City (abstract).

When you look at the various events leading up to the latest Nara document, the evolution of these ideas becomes very obvious. What has emerged is a structure that dismisses the nationalistic, top-down view of cultural heritage and in its place presents a picture of multiple stakeholders and communities which can be evaluated by their authenticity. The latter term is vitally important and is defined:

Authenticity:  A culturally contingent quality associated with a heritage place, practice, or object that conveys cultural value; is recognized as a meaningful expression of an evolving cultural tradition; and/or evokes among individuals the social and emotional resonance of group identity.
In The Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), we read:
9. Conservation of cultural heritage in all its forms and historical periods is rooted in the values attributed to the heritage. Our ability to understand these values depends, in part, on the degree to which information sources about these values may be understood as credible or truthful. Knowledge and understanding of these sources of information, in relation to original and subsequent characteristics of the cultural heritage, and their meaning, is a requisite basis for assessing all aspects of authenticity.
I had acted, in a voluntary capacity, for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild to advise and aid public respondents to various US State Department Memoranda of Understanding with countries that would impact on collectors and coin dealers who had an interest in ancient coins. It became apparent to me that such responses, while giving an impression that such opinions would be considered important, were simply ignored. Also, the public was being asked to give their opinions on a deal where only one side was being explained. The wise response to any such offer is to say "Even though I might support what is being offered to these countries, because the cost, to me, is being withheld, I cannot possibly agree".  These two points completely negate any judgement of authenticity to the proceedings. The public became aware of this subterfuge and over several M o U's the numbers of respondents on both sides dwindled. They realized that they did not really have a voice. It was just a con game played on them by a government who had already decided on the outcome. The Cultural Property Advisory Committee included a representative from the trade as a token minority to give the appearance of impartiality and multiple viewpoints but it was all a sham. There was nothing that I could do so I stopped.

Nara+20  says:
3. Involvement of multiple stakeholders
The Nara Document assigns responsibility for cultural heritage to specific communities that generated or cared for it. The experience of the last 20 years has demonstrated that cultural heritage may be significant in different ways to a broader range of communities and interest groups that now include virtual global communities that did not exist in 1994. This situation is further complicated by the recognition that individuals can be simultaneously members of more than one community and by the imbalance of power among stakeholders, often determined by heritage legislation, decision-making mechanisms, and economic interests. Those with authority to establish or recognize the significance, value, authenticity, treatment and use of heritage resources have the responsibility to involve all stakeholders in these processes, not forgetting those communities with little or no voice. Heritage professionals should engage in community matters that may affect heritage. Further work is needed on methodologies to identify the rights, responsibilities, representatives, and levels of involvement of communities.
No one has denied that collectors of ancient coins are, indeed, a community. I have identified such as a cultural frame, but this terminology is not used in the document. Nevertheless, its meaning is embraced in the following definition:
Community: Any group sharing cultural or social characteristics, interests, and perceived continuity through time, and which distinguishes itself in some respect from other groups. Some of the characteristics, interests, needs and perceptions that define the distinctiveness of a community are directly linked to heritage.

Steven van Uytsel and Paulius Jurčys say:
The second session was entitled ‘Heritage and Social Aspects’. Prof. Neil Silberman from University of Massachusetts discussed the relationship between social change and heritage conservation. He started the presentation by noting that the Nara Document aimed at changing a Eurocentric approach to heritage conservation and raised a question whether culturally embedded values could be incorporated in the notion of outstanding universal value. Prof. Silberman also discussed the inter-relationship between the economic development and protection of heritage by increasing wealth fosters cross-border tourism and visiting historical sites. In this perspective, heritage could be even considered as an alternative industry for revenue generation as well as the tool for local development. At the same time, heritage is a medium for conflict (e.g., Sarajevo library) as well as in struggle for the political power. Prof. Silberman also analysed a number of controversial issues. He stressed that the history of heritage has been 'top-down', i.e. authoritative; and identification of what is authentic implies continuity and unchanging understanding what is heritage. While this is true in a homogenous society, the processes of globalization raise new questions especially if one is aware of the fact that discontinuation of the past has become characteristic to this world.
I will return to these topics tomorrow, but for now I will leave you with a couple of videos featuring participants in the Nara document (the first one could do with a little editing of its start, so be patient):

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