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The 2014 Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference: Towards Efficient Roles of NGOs for Safeguarding ICH in the Asia-Pacific Region

(26-27 June, Jeonju, Korea)

Outcome of the Conference 

The 2014 Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference: Towards Efficient Roles of NGOs for Safeguarding ICH in the Asia-Pacific Region took place on 26 and 27 June in Jeonju, Republic of Korea. After the opening speeches, participants gave presentations over three sessions, each related to a different aspect of ICH NGOs in the 2003 Convention: identity, role, and empowerment. The sessions were followed by two parallel discussions, and a plenary discussion concluded the conference.

Keynote Speeches

The first keynote speaker, Dr Tim Curtis summarized the IOS evaluation report’s on the role of NGOs in the 2003 Convention. The report showed the varied NGO activities and the various types and sizes of NGOs working to safeguard ICH. The report also revealed several issues, including the lack of consistency and clarity in the UNESCO accreditation process and insufficient community participation.

The second keynote speaker, Dr Antonio Arantes spoke about the significance and prospects of NGO networks in the field of ICH, explaining that NGOs play an important role in countries where democracy is not completely established and sectors of the population lack access to basic human rights. NGOs can be catalysts to development by working with the political and social processes. He highlighted the session topics: networking as a social practice and ICH safeguarding beyond the Lists.

Session 1: Identities and Contribution of ICH NGOs — Diego Gradis

In the first session, Joanne Orr, Antoine Gauthier, John de Coninck, and Kwang Hee Kim spoke of the notion of identity in relation to ICH NGOs. The four speakers gave perspectives from four different continents. Each described the implications of the idea of identity at the local, national, and international levels.

Ms Orr pointed out the existence of different layers of ICH, including the top layer and the complex layers beneath. Mr Gauthier warned against too much focus on identity, arguing that the notion is not always relevant. Dr Kim advocated for the strengthening of local identity through community involvement. Dr De Coninck contrasted the identity of east African peoples to that of Koreans to illustrate the need for an individualized approach.

To promote national identity, Ms Orr described several methods that were used to create the network of museums in Scotland. Mr. Gauthier focused on the crucial need for concrete data, using the example of a study on traditional music. Dr De Coninck described the problems of education focusing on Western culture in post-colonial countries. Dr Kim highlighted the successes of afterschool programs in getting youth involved in the promotion of ICH.

Ms Orr explained that there has been a resurgence of cultural identity and that the people are now embracing every culture that takes place in Scotland rather than equating culture to being Scottish. Mr Gauthier argued that, since ICH safeguarding criteria are difficult to measure, tools should be shared across borders. Dr De Coninck emphasized the need to focus on tourism in east Africa. Dr Kim encouraged the promotion of ICH not only within the country it belongs to, but also outside through international networking.

NGOs can help with the creation of identity at the local, national, and international levels by involving the communities and sharing information with specific data through networking.

Session 2: Effective Roles of NGOs between Government and ICH Communities — Antonio Arantes

In the second session, Olvin Valentin, Elise Huffer, Tuliana Cirivakayawa, and Jae Eun Yu illustrated the various roles NGOs play between governments and communities.

A recurrent theme was the promotion of ICH with youth. Mr Valentin described his afterschool programs in Puerto Rico and the opportunities they provide for youth to express themselves through what they learn. Ms Cirivakayawa worked as a volunteer in several areas of ICH in the Pacific and emphasized the need to involve the youth rather than simply teach them.

Ms Cirivakayawa explained that sustainability was difficult to achieve in the Pacific because of a lack of resources and human capacity. Dr Huffer suggested encouraging contemporary artists to create works that are inspired by traditional art. Ms Yu expressed the goal of the new ICH centre (NITH) as the facilitation of ICH transmission. She demonstrated how the involvement of people from a variety of backgrounds can help with sustainability. A key to sustainable development is to have a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach, a shift that Ms Yu said is beginning to happen.

The speakers listed several additional challenges, including finding funds. Puerto Rico faces unique challenges due to its political situation as a non-country and outsider of UNESCO. During the discussion, Dr Tim Cutis brought up the issue of whether intervening in the Pacific where ICH is still a way of life is truly beneficial. Mr Gaura Mancacaritadipura described the problem of urbanization, which causes communities to be uprooted from their environments.

NGOs should aim to create sustainable methods for safeguarding ICH by focusing on youth and the incorporation of ICH in modern living. Different locations with different geographical features and political situations require different approaches.

Session 3: Empowering ICH NGOs as Catalysts for Sustainable Development — Lee Jung Ok

In the third session, Gabriele Desiderio, Ananya Bhattacharya, and Han Hee Hahm discussed empowering ICH NGOs to help with sustainable development. Although each presenter came from a different country, they had similar objectives and issues.

Mr Desiderio introduced UNPLI, a UNESCO accredited ICH NGO. UNPLI works with communities to raise awareness of ICH and is currently working on strengthening NGOs at the local, national, and international levels. However, Mr Desiderio pointed to some issues that ICH faces in Italy, such as the overtaking of small towns by tourism. Mr Desiderio described UNPLI’s approach as pro loco, meaning “for the place” in Latin.

Ms Bhattacharya described how ICH safeguarding has enabled sustainable development in India. She gave several examples in which the strengthening of a community’s identity and the practice of ICH helped communities socioeconomically. As a result of ICH safeguarding, people have higher goals for the future. However, Ms Battacharya pointed to the problem of inequality in India and the need for an enabling legislative that would allow for sustainable ICH safeguarding.

Professor Hahm described the power of NGOs in Korea. The Korean government is expected to facilitate the participation of NGOs in defining ICH. Professor Hahm cited the ICH “keepers” as examples of the current shift to a bottom-up approach, which is also seen in the fact that ICHPEDIA, an online inventory initiated by the government, was taken over by NGOs.

NGOs should aim for sustainability. One danger is government dependency, a problem that is more or less significant depending on the country. With proper methodology, NGOs can be a tool for development in a number of domains.

Parallel Discussion 1 — Joanne Orr

Presenter Jorijn Neyrinck induced an exercise to draw a roadmap for NGO networking. First, a series of potential axes for grouping were introduced. However, Ms Neyrinck pointed to the importance of also focusing on external aspects and landscapes, such as the UNESCO framework, growing regional interconnections, financial constraints, and the need for sustainable development.

Ms Neyrinck argued that we are situated in a critical stage that may determine the direction of the impact of NGO integration in UNESCO and (inter)governmental safeguarding efforts. This nevertheless also presents an opportunity for NGOs to take initiatives in directions that seem preferable and to draw the axes of more efficient networks.

For the exercise, participants were asked to discuss opportunities and barriers to developing closer relationships between NGOs and to share processes toward more efficient working. The discussants broke into two groups and presented their ideas after thirty minutes.

Together, the groups listed four outcomes of NGO networking: the sharing of information, the strengthening of NGOs’ voices, better monitoring systems, and capacity building.

In order to achieve these outcomes, the following processes were suggested: sharing mistakes in addition to successes; mapping facilitators and doers; cooperating to determine how NGOs may complement one another; taking into account the multiple identities of NGOs; and developing methodologies to strengthen NGOs in different parts of the world.

Three specific suggestions were made: to create an outside observatory that would monitor NGOs; to create translations in other languages than French and English; and to host a conference in the near future that would focus on the methodologies of strengthening ICH NGOs.

Parallel Discussion 2  Seong-Yong Park

NGO representatives and experts from the Asia-Pacific region discussed NGO networking for ICH safeguarding in the region.

The session began with MD Muthukumaraswamy, who presented an Indian perspective on NGOs. In addition, Deok Soon Kim gave a regional perspective on the topic of NGO networking. The discussion session began with Eduardo Perez, who talked about the role of NGOs in the preservation and development of ICH in the Philippines.

The discussion revolved around two main questions—namely, why should NGOs participate in networking and how should networking be facilitated especially in the context of Asia-Pacific region.

In response to the first question, it was determined that networking allows organizations to share resources, including knowledge, and learn from one another. Networks bridge communities to governments and other organizations, including UNESCO. Funding opportunities can develop. In addition, networking avoids having to approach problems alone, which compounds the workload. In terms of methodologies for the efficient networking, participants also delved into different approaches of face-to-face meetings, online and off-line communications, and other social networking services.

In response to the second question, it was argued that higher education and universities should be involved with research and implementing post-graduate degree options. Working through ICHCAP as a centre for networking can create new connections and open the door to new opportunities. Exchange of information and expertise should be further promoted. In this regard, for example, the CPI programme, through the Ministry of Culture in Korea, is helping to link NGOs and other organizations.

It was concluded that networking for NGOs is not an option; it is a necessity. And, more importantly, the life of the Convention is reliant on networking.

Plenary Discussion — Samuel Lee

Dr Samuel chaired the plenary discussion and highlighted the main ideas expressed during the conference. He recognized that NGOs can play an efficient role in ICH safeguarding but argued that a more global perspective was needed. He pointed out that not only was the definition of ICH NGOs discussed but so too was the definition of ICH itself. He noted that there are many different perceptions of ICH and different scopes for ICH NGOs. Since there are no definite answers to many of the questions asked, he argued that further discussion about the definition and scope of ICH NGOs was needed.

Dr Lee also pointed to problems and difficulties ICH NGOs face, including organizational weaknesses, financial difficulties, a lack of experts, and an absence of comprehensive statistics. Developing countries face additional challenges, such as people’s misperceptions and mistrust of their own cultures. He encouraged searching for ways to empower NGOs and find the most efficient roles for them in this regard.

Following Dr Lee’s expression of thanks to the participants, each chairperson for Sessions 1 through 3 and the parallel discussions (Diego Gradis, Antonio Arantes, Jung Ok Lee, Joanne Orr, and Seong-Yong Park) gave brief reports.

On behalf of all participants, Ananya Bhattacharya read the outcome document for the 2014 Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference. For further details, please refer to the 2014 Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference Outcome Document.

Finally, Ms Sun Hwa Rha, Administrator of the Cultural Heritage Administration, delivered her closing remarks. She expressed her appreciation of the participants’ enthusiasm and her belief that their motivation will go a long way in strengthening ICH safeguarding activities at the international level. During this conference, she has come to believe that international and regional networking of ICH NGOs will become a significant milestone in the exchange of information, which will facilitate NGOs’ roles as mediators between communities and governments.