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Investing in Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development
Bibliotheca Alexandrina Conference Center , At 02/12/2008

Investing in Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development

Concept Note

Cultural heritage is a global public good which should be preserved and maintained for the future through a stream of investments by stakeholders and owner/guardians in a global cultural corporation. The viability of investments in the field of cultural heritage has been questionable for decades by many, especially once taken from a mere commercial/business perspective. Retail-like business firms tend to neglect socio-cultural ramifications in a trade off for short-run or hit-and-run gains with major departures, or perhaps negligence, of aspects of conservation and sustainable development of world cultural heritage. Investments in cultural heritage and development are undoubtedly of medium- to long-term horizons. However, numerous economic impact studies have proven that investment in cultural heritage provides substantial returns in terms of direct expenditures, new jobs, and additional tax revenue.  

The challenge facing citizens and experts in many parts of the developing world today is to convince the powerful triangle of governments, funding organizations (banks, insurance companies, venture capitalists, etc.), and the private sector including civil society of the viability of medium to long-term investments, contrary to the current short-termism. Once this understanding is established, funding agencies will be ready to invest, learn and innovate in newly treaded, promising waters, without losing sight of limitations and constraints.

With this in mind, the first International Cultural Heritage Conference took place in Florence, Italy in 1999. The conference entitled   “Culture Counts:  Financing, Resources, and the Economics of Culture in Sustainable Development” was co-sponsored by the Government of Italy and the World Bank in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It provided fora in which developing countries could address policies related to the economics of culture. A decade later, the Conference will be hosted once again in Italy in 2009 to evaluate the steps taken since the first international conference.  

In preparation for this international event, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina plans to host a preliminary conference, 2-4 December 2008. It is proposed that the conference be entitled Investing in Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development, which will be approached using Political, Economic, Social, and Technological (PEST) analysis factors, approaches and good practices to investments. As such, sub-topics have been identified and classified according to the mentioned principles; such as protection and preservation, development and sustainability and technology adaptation. These in turn are reflected in four tracks that are translated into parallel sessions throughout this Conference.

The Conference will focus mainly on new ideas for financial architecture of financing projects and “Actions;” that is to say, the “operationalization” of the measures already taken or those needed to mobilize cultural heritage for development. This may include regional, intergovernmental, and inter-societal measures. One of these measures is the mechanisms for establishing Heritage Development Organizations made up of intellectuals and stake-holders to initiate the preparation of National Policy Statements as a lead to the formalization of National Cultural Heritage Acts identifying the institutions, financial and legal instruments aimed at protecting, conserving, managing and developing cultural heritage. The Conference will also discuss the relationship between investing in cultural heritage and economic development. This includes the discussion of the current and proposed strategies for dealing with economic development in poor countries with an emphasis on establishing an integrated strategic approach that links economic development with human development added to the conservation of cultural heritage resources.

Consequently, the topic of Presentation and Interpretation of the links between cultural heritage policies, programs and projects should be highlighted. This will invite contributions on a range of presentational styles and media for a variety of audiences. It will not only include the role of museums and exhibitions but also television and other media (film, radio, websites and music) and literature (fiction, advertising materials), among others, in presenting the materials, methodologies, lessons and challenges to the general public and specialised audiences.  

In addition, the role of local communities in the investment of cultural heritage should be discussed. This theme includes the relationship between local communities and society in the management of cultural heritage issues. Contributions may survey current situations and offer suggestions on how to engage local communities in all issues of cultural heritage management, how they can benefit from heritage assets, and how they can be better informed of the value and meaning of cultural heritage. Attention may be given to the role of policy makers, heritage advocates, NGOs, governmental and intergovernmental organizations.

Furthermore, case studies and reports as well as new methodologies applied in different countries for the preservation of the cultural heritage and encouragement of investment in different cultural aspects should be considered, such as the US case study outlined in Appendix A.

Cultural heritage development impact studies are investments on their own, and in order to be sustainable they have to be embedded within the global governance system, and their relevant standard performance indicators developed, monitored, evaluated and disseminated periodically. Of course, there is no one size that fits all, however standardizing diversity, documenting precedents and developing good practice would be the crux of the exercise, and of course the Alexandria Conference from 2 to 4 December 2008 acts as a natural building block towards its prospective Italy amalgam in 2009.

Consequently, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina preliminary conference “Investing in Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development” will be held over a course of 3 days, involving approximately 150 participants focusing on the expertise and experiences from the MENA region, and will include experts from Egypt and the region as well as some renowned international experts to lead and link the debates in the Conference with current discussions in the global arena. The beginning of the conference will discuss in a general plenary session, Why Invest in Cultural Heritage?, covering the need for both valuing and evaluating cultural heritage. In addition, discussions will be conducted in all the workshops dealing with the main theme of the conference: Investing in Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development as well as the sub-themes aiming at answering some of the following questions with emphasis on the progress achieved, innovations, and challenges involved over the past decade:

·         What makes investing in cultural heritage appealing to the set of stakeholders? Who and what are the drivers, expected costs, benefits and risks?

·         Has investment in cultural heritage and development been incorporated in global, regional, national and local policies, programs and projects? How/modalities? How far?

·         How is it possible to obtain wider involvement for governments, the private sector and civil society? 

·         What type of techniques, instruments and capacity-building investments are needed to sustain cultural heritage development projects?

·         What are the constraints encountered in the investment in cultural heritage? (comparators from different project types and regions needed for peer analyses/benchmarking/indexation)? 

There will be concluding sessions with the presentation of a successful case in each particular area, focusing on the positive outcomes of investing in cultural heritage as well as providing models for replication and further emulation. The conference will conclude with a general plenary which focuses on the future. The subject of how to approach new strategies for cultural investment, setting guidelines and clear directions for action plans which are ready to mobilize, in order to highlight and address the need for investing in cultural heritage for development in the MENA region, will also be addressed.  

Also, exhibits of income-generating arts and crafts from different countries will be displayed. It is with this need to outline steps for success stories in mind that the preliminary conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in December 2008 will contribute to the Second International Cultural Heritage Conference in Rome 2009.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina Conference will culminate in the production of a publication and the conference proceedings, and will be covered widely by the media throughout the MENA region and the globe. This endeavor is also intent to document the wealth of experience presented to the Conferees and to humankind worldwide. Some exceptional papers presented in December 2008 will be invited to compete for presentation in the Conference in Italy, 2009.

Appendix A: US Case Study

The US developed a distinctive model whereby cultural collaborators (advocacy groups, NGOs, private sector, state, regional and national governments) in three states (Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) joined hands to mobilize fiscal, local and participatory funding through an exquisite blend of successful modalities for cultural heritage in development. Direct support came mainly through federal, regional and state budgets; that is to say, from taxpayers’ moneys. Moreover, those appropriated funds were earmarked upon mobilizing lobbies and advocacy groups in the said societies. A series of endowment funds were developed which served as a lever for national and local budget constraints.

Several gains accrued as a result of investments in culture in the three mentioned states. First, advocacy groups ensured that investments in culture were incorporated within development policies on the federal, regional and state levels, while also ensuring that they were part-and-parcel of political parties’ platforms. Second, policy priority areas in investments in culture led to the development of a clear political message to the community reflecting the importance of the subject pragmatically in the letter and spirit of policy at its various levels. Third, periodic and visible impact assessments became the business-as-usual of citizenry ownership, engagement, reporting and accountability.

The catalogue of development outcomes discerned as a result of economic investments in culture in the three US States revolved around eight quality of life betterment for citizens, which were generated as follows:

1.      Accessibility and Participation: State cultural agencies provide access to cultural programs by eliminating barriers imposed by economic status, education, prejudice, distance or special needs.

2.      Diversity: Cultural programs help facilitate understanding the diverse heritages represented in society; for example, to Asian or Hispanic festivals, which is increasingly important in today’s global economy. This also serves as a preserver of cultures, traditions and/norms from devastation.

3.      Economic Development: Culture helps accomplish economic development goals by developing creative industries and by providing a competitive advantage to the locale where a cultural venture is contemplated and implemented.

4.      Education and Youth at Risk: Research shows that arts programs improves students’ self confidence, build communication and problem solving skills, and help prepare young people to be the creative thinkers that employers seek in today’s workforce. Arts programs are an effective development intervention strategy for troubled youth who have failed to respond to more traditional educational and social services programs.

5.      Revenue Generation: Numerous economic impact studies have found that investment in culture provides substantial returns in terms of direct expenditures, new jobs, and additional tax revenue. This holds true at the federal, regional, state and local levels.

6.      Rural Development: Culture also helps revitalize rural areas. Many small towns are overlooked by economic development strategies that base investment solely on market principles. Such approaches conclude that these towns do not have enough critical mass to sustain or attract new business or industry. However, small towns may have other assets such as historic buildings, and the preservation and enhancement of local culture is a feature of rural areas that has the potential to generate new kinds of economic activity.

7.      Tourism: Culture attracts tourists, and tourism is America’s third largest retail sales industry. This is referred to as cultural or heritage tourism. It is one of the fastest growing tourism segments in the world.

8.      Urban Revitalization: Cultural infrastructure helps urban revitalization. For example, performing arts centers and museums draw people to cities. Historic preservation also plays part in urban revitalization. Inner cities are the historic cultural centers and historic places are valuable, scarce and non-renewable. Preservation of existing buildings injects vitality into traditional downtown areas and creates better communities by providing alternatives to suburban development. Historic places also tell the story of America, as much as any other country, and help in understanding the intricate roots of societies.


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