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Learning traditional woodcarving skills with master - Ladakh, India © UNESCO

The regional multi-sectoral project entitled ‘Cultural Survival and Revival in the Buddhist Sangha: Documentation, Education and Training to Revitalize Traditional Decorative Arts and Building Crafts in the Temples of Asia’ was initiated by UNESCO in 2000 with primary support from the Government of Norway, and supplementary funding from the Government of New Zealand.  The project’s objective is to build local capacity in the conservation of the tangible and intangible heritage via revitalization of traditional artisan skills among local caretakers of heritage, in particular amongst religious communities such as the Buddhist sangha (monastic orders).

The project was developed in response to requests from Buddhist communities for assistance in maintaining religious cultural heritage, which is the main repository of local cultural heritage.  The project targets reviving traditional decorative arts and building crafts as well as developing preventive conservation skills, with in framework of economic sustainability and local community support.
From 2000-2002, UNESCO implemented Phase I of the project in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, in collaboration with the Luang Prabang Department of Information and Culture and the Laotian Buddhist sangha. Through the establishment of the “Training Centre for Laotian Traditional Temple Arts and Building Crafts”, the project has succeeded in documenting and revitalizing a number of traditional decorative arts and building crafts.  At the same time, the project has also revived the traditional system of training in this field within the monastic community itself, thus ensuring the traditional system of knowledge transmission from master to apprentice.

Phase II (2004-6), will ensure the ongoing implementation of the project in the Phase I pilot site of Luang Prabang, and a regional expansion throughout the Theravada and Vajrayana (Tibetan-tradition) Buddhist countries in Asia.
Up-scaling the project with the inclusion of sites throughout Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhist areas will maximize the regional impact of the project.  Through appropriate adaptation of the pilot project methodology, local site representatives will implement projects that will aim to preserve of the intangible culture heritage of Bhutan (Thimphu), Cambodia (Udong), China (Sichuan, Xishuangbanna), India (Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Sikkim), Lao PDR (Bokeo, Champasak, Luang Prabang, Savanakhet, Vientiane), Mongolia (Orkhon Valley), Myanmar (Mandalay, Shan State), Nepal (Lalitpur, Mustang), Sri Lanka (Kandy), Thailand (Nan, Nakhon Si Thammarat).

In sites where laypersons have also been involved as traditional creators and caretakers of the community’s artistic and religious heritage, the project’s prospective trainee base will be broadened to include other stakeholders, such as lay craftspeople.  In addition to training in traditional decorative arts, a curriculum on management and preventative conservation will also be developed and taught on sites.  The development of training materials will include documentation of traditional building, decorative and maintenance practices as an important component of the transmission of local knowledge in this field.  There will be an emphasis on delivering training through existing institutional platforms, including both formal and non-formal education channels, and providing training for local trainers.  Partnerships with local and national agencies in the form of required matching contributions of financial and institutional resources will ensure long-term project sustainability in all sites. 

By engaging actors from multiple sectors, the project will create and put into place innovative, decentralized mechanisms which will guarantee the project’s long-term sustainability with the support of local communities and authorities at all levels, while respecting traditional mechanisms of decision-making and community action.