: Opinion pieces

Europe’s Common Data Space for Cultural Heritage

By Rob Davies

The European Strategy for data focuses on putting people first in developing technology and defending and promoting European values and rights in the digital world. Data is seen as an essential resource for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation and societal progress in general. The aim is to create a single market for data that will ensure Europe’s global competitiveness and data sovereignty.

Common European data spaces will be developed and funded in key strategy sectors and areas of public interest, such as health, agriculture or manufacturing. They are intended to ensure that more data becomes available for use in the economy and society, while keeping the companies and individuals who generate the data in control. Data driven applications will benefit citizens and businesses in many ways such as improved health care, safer and cleaner transport systems, lower cost public services, improved sustainability and energy efficiency, more business innovation and by generating new products and services.

The plan is to adopt legislative measures on data governance, access and reuse, e.g. for business-to-government data sharing for the public interest. And to make data more widely available by opening up high value publicly held datasets across the EU and allowing their reuse for free. A big investment in data processing infrastructures, data sharing tools, architectures and governance mechanisms. Thriving data sharing and federated energy-efficient and trustworthy cloud infrastructures and related services.

Among the 14 data spaces initially envisaged, The European Commission has published a recommendation on a common European data space for cultural heritage. The aim is to accelerate the digitisation of cultural heritage assets like cultural heritage monuments and sites, objects and artefacts for future generations, to protect and preserve those at risk, and boost their reuse in domains such as education, sustainable tourism and cultural creative sectors.

Currently cultural tourism represents up to 40% of all tourism in Europe, cultural and creative industries contribute 3.95% of total EU value added (€477 billion) and more than 8 million people are employed within them, through 1.2 million firms – 99.9% of which are SMEs; Member States are encouraged to digitise by 2030 all monuments and sites that are at risk of degradation and half of those highly frequented by tourists. This will contribute to the objectives of the Digital Decade by fostering a secure and sustainable digital infrastructure, digital skills and uptake of technologies by businesses, in particular SMEs.

Europeana, the European digital cultural platform, will be at the basis for building the common data space for cultural heritage by allowing museums, galleries, libraries and archives across Europe to share and reuse the digitised cultural heritage images such as 3D models of historical sites and high quality scans of paintings. Europeana currently offers access to 52 million cultural heritage assets, 45% of which can be reused in various sectors. Images and text make up 97.5% of Europeana’s assets, with only 2.47% audiovisual content and 0.03% in 3D. The collection of 3D assets in particular should see a massive boost, thanks to this latest initiative.

It is envisaged that the common data space for cultural heritage will include a wider variety of data types than the current digital content of Europeana. While these are still to be fully defined, they might be about any aspect of tangible or intangible Cultural Heritage – its creation, description, storage, presentation/performance, transmission, access, preservation, reuse, rights etc.- or possibly even more widely drawn from across the whole spectrum of cultural activity, including data coming from scientific or other fields which eventually constitutes our heritage.

Alongside this, the European collaborative cloud on cultural heritage (ECCCH) is a European Union initiative for a digital infrastructure that will connect cultural heritage institutions and professionals across the EU. It is intended to help protect European cultural heritage while answering to the new requirements of a digitized world. In doing that, it will provide practical benefits to all cultural heritage professionals and museums, developing specific digital collaborative tools for the sector while removing barriers for smaller and remote institutions. The goal is to help cultural heritage institutions, research organisations and other professionals of all sizes and types work with their digital objects in a more visible, interconnected, harmonised, and informed way, allowing them to successfully cope with the challenges the digital transition poses to the sector.

The ECCCH, funded by Horizon Europe, will aim to add a new digital dimension to cultural heritage preservation, conservation, restoration and enhancement by providing cutting-edge technologies for digitising artefacts and researching artworks, paving the way for new transdisciplinary collaboration in the field of cultural heritage, bringing together specialists from a range of disciplines, including scholars, curators, archivists, and conservators.

This ambitious project for a new cutting-edge platform will work in tandem with other European initiatives, such as Europeana and the common European dataspace for cultural heritage, to add a new dimension to the way we approach, conserve and enhance our shared cultural heritage. As part of the ECCCH, two calls for proposals were open until September 2023 to fund. projects which will contribute to setting up the foundations of ECCCH. With an envisaged budget of €110 million until 2025 from Horizon Europe, the ECCCH will be a unique infrastructure that will enable unprecedented transdisciplinary and large-scale collaboration between specialists.

*Rob Davies is HERITΛGE’s Head of European Programs and Chair of the Management Board of the Europeana Network Association (ENA).
*HERITΛGE offers a number of training opportunities on Digital Tools for Cultural Heritage. These include a 3-day workshop, a summer field school, and a credit bearing Certificate in cooperation with HOGENT University.

Critical challenges in the way we experience heritage in the realm of museums

 

By Dr. George Margetis

The SHIFT project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe Program, comes to revitalize how we experience cultural heritage by matching innovation with tradition and creating multi-sensory heritage encounters that transcend boundaries and welcome everyone.

More specifically, SHIFT aims to unlock the past for everyone and is committed to accessibility and inclusivity, ensuring that cultural heritage becomes accessible to all, and allowing everyone to connect with their heritage regardless of background or ability. Emphasizing also that diversity matters, SHIFT pursues to empower people with disabilities to enrich their perspectives and foster their understanding.

SHIFT is addressing the critical challenges we encounter in the realm of museums. These are: 

Challenge 1: diverse heritage, diverse needs.
Our cultural heritage often excludes individuals of diverse backgrounds from fully engaging with it.

Challenge 2: physical barriers transform heritage exploration into a struggle for individuals with mobility challenges.
Limited access narrows their ability to engage with exhibits, diminishing their capacity to immerse themselves in their stories.

Challenge 3: language and cognitive barriers.
The language barrier and cognitive disabilities create a divide leaving visitors disconnected from heritage stories.

Challenge 4: exclusion of sensory diversity.
Many cultural experiences focus on sight and sound, excluding those who experience the world differently.

Challenge 5: theater of inclusivity.
Museums should prioritize inclusivity for all visitors but certain interactive elements and live performances may unintentionally exclude individuals with varying abilities.

The SHIFT project consortium that consists of 13 European partners, is tackling these challenges head-on, reimagining accessibility to cultural heritage through innovative and inclusive approaches.

By addressing these issues we pave the way to a more accessible and enriching cultural experience for all.


Dr. George Margetis, is a postdoctoral researcher with the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory of The Institute of Computer Science of FORTH. The HCI lab is leading SHIFT’s Work Package 3 implementation, catering to the accessibility of cultural heritage assets and improving the user experience of people with visual impairments. This opinion piece was originally part of a presentation for the webinar held to celebrate European Heritage Days 2023. You can watch the entire webinar that was hosted by HERITΛGE here.

Empowering Ethiopia’s Heritage Sector: HERITΛGE’s First In-Country Workshop

Preserving cultural heritage goes beyond the institutional practices of protecting ancient structures; it involves engaging communities, understanding shared heritage values , and building a future that respects local perceptions of the past. It is with this in mind that HERITΛGE held its inaugural workshop in Ethiopia in July, training 22 key heritage managers in Community Engagement in Heritage Management.

HERITΛGE Director, Dr. Evangelos Kyriakidis, and Xanthippi Kontogianni, Ethiopia Programs Manager, held the 3-day intensive workshop in Addis Ababa, welcoming heritage professionals representing a diverse range of stakeholders within Ethiopia’s cultural and creative industries. Among the participants were representatives from a diverse range of stakeholders including Jinka University, Madda Walabu University, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ethiopian Heritage Authority, the National Library, and various civil society organizations among them the Waku Gutu Foundation, Heritage Watch, and Save Heritage, History and Culture of Ethiopia.

The workshop is part of HERITΛGE’s program for Ethiopia, supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place program.

Nurturing Capacity for Community Engagement

At the heart of our Communities Engagement workshop lays a commitment to building capacity within heritage management. In an ever-evolving world, local communities are keepers of key information for the understanding of heritage while accountability for protecting their own history and values is indispensable and crucial for sustainable heritage preservation. HERITΛGE has structured the workshop to address these needs comprehensively.

Throughout the workshop discussion facilitated by Dr. Kyriakidis, participants shared examples and case studies from the Ethiopian context and explored the issues affecting the the management of cultural assets in the country, highlighting among others the challenges, needs and opportunities facing heritage managers.

Workshop Outcomes:

  • A Network of Collaborators: The workshop serves as a nexus for like-minded professionals to network, share experiences, and collectively envision a future where heritage management is a catalyst for positive change.
  • Diverse Perspectives: With participants from universities, government bodies, regional offices, and civil society organizations, the workshop brought together diverse viewpoints, sparking enriching discussions and cross-pollination of ideas.
  • Community-Centric Approach: HERITΛGE’s emphasis on community engagement resonated strongly, setting the tone for a future where heritage sites become integral to community development.
  • Concrete Strategies:Participants departed the workshop armed with practical strategies to enhance community involvement, integrate local narratives, and develop sustainable heritage management plans.

Preserving History Together: Our Cultural Heritage Assessment in Kahramanmaraş

 

By Çağla Parlak

 

We are thrilled to share our recent post-earthquake cultural heritage assessment field visit to Kahramanmaraş, Turkiye, conducted in cooperation with the Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. This meaningful initiative was made possible through the generous funding provided by the Aliph Foundation.

Between 23-29 July, our team of dedicated conservationists assessed 175 historic buildings in the city of Kahramanmaraş, which suffered significant damage from the February 2023 earthquakes, including awe-inspiring civil architecture and time-honored monuments, each carrying the weight of centuries of history.  The devastating earthquake had left its mark, reminding us of the vulnerability of our shared cultural heritage. The once-proud monuments, centuries-old buildings, and priceless artifacts bore the scars of nature’s fury, urging us to act swiftly to protect the region’s cultural treasures.

During our site visit, we focused on assessing the extent of the damage and devising restoration strategies. What touched us most was our engagement with the locals. They welcomed us with open hearts, sharing their concerns and hopes for the future of their historic houses.

Embracing Ownership and Driving Sustainable Development: Women’s Entrepreneurship in The Gambia

By Mina Morou*

Women’s entrepreneurship in The Gambia has experienced remarkable growth, empowering women and catalyzing positive societal change. From supportive collectives in rural areas to innovative ventures across sectors, women entrepreneurs are breaking barriers and leading the charge towards a more inclusive and prosperous future.

A noteworthy example of this progress is the establishment of supportive collectives in rural areas, where women pool funds from their entrepreneurial endeavors to provide support within their group. This fosters solidarity, sisterhood, and shared responsibility, offering not just financial aid but also emotional support and knowledge exchange. During our work for HerMaP Gambia, we witnessed firsthand the impactful role of women collectives in promoting women’s entrepreneurship in The Gambia. These collectives serve as networks of support, fostering collaboration, shared experiences, and mutual assistance. They create an enabling environment that empowers women entrepreneurs to thrive in their ventures.

It is very encouraging that recent research shows most women employed in Micro – SME’s state that a range of opportunities such as micro-financing and business development opportunities like training and coaching are available to them in the country.

Women’s entrepreneurship plays a pivotal role in driving sustainable development, contributing to economic growth, employment opportunities, and innovation. Moreover, women entrepreneurs prioritize community development by supporting local suppliers and investing in socially impactful initiatives such as sustainable agriculture and tourism.

However, women entrepreneurs in The Gambia face challenges including limited access to finance, cultural biases, and gender inequalities. Overcoming these obstacles requires collective efforts from the government, private sector, and civil society. It is crucial to provide targeted financial support, offer business training and mentorship programs, and promote gender-responsive policies.

Creating an enabling environment is essential for fostering women’s entrepreneurship. This involves ensuring equal opportunities for education and skills development, addressing infrastructural gaps, and challenging gender stereotypes. By encouraging women, fostering supportive networks, and creating favorable conditions, The Gambia can unlock the full potential of women entrepreneurs.

Women’s entrepreneurship in The Gambia is a potent catalyst for economic growth, social transformation, and sustainable development. By celebrating their achievements and continuously advocating for women’s entrepreneurship, we can build a more equitable and prosperous society for all. It is through the collective efforts of various stakeholders that we can ensure the thriving of women’s entrepreneurship, both within The Gambia and beyond its borders. HERITΛGE actively contributes to this mission by providing targeted training and mentorship programs that address the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, equipping them with the essential skills and knowledge for entrepreneurial success.

*Mina Morou is HERITΛGE’s African Programs Manager

HERITΛGE actively contributes to women entrepreneurship, through HerMaP Gambia, which is co – funded by the European Union.

Addressing the Challenges to Cultural Heritage in Turkey and Syria after the February 6th Earthquake

By Dr. Evangelos Kyriakidis

N.B. The following remarks were delivered during the Aliph Forum 2023 a few short weeks after the deadly February earthquakes that affected Turkey and Syria

Dealing with the challenges posed to cultural heritage in Turkey and Syria following the devastating earthquake of February 6th is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. As the global heritage community responds to this catastrophe, it is crucial to consider the longstanding difficulties faced by the affected regions in Southeastern Turkey and Syria, including longstanding humanitarian and political crises affecting these countries. The earthquake has further exacerbated an already dire situation.

To effectively address this, it is essential to distinguish between regions experiencing an ongoing humanitarian disaster and those that have endured significant damage but are not facing immediate threats to human life. Immediate action should be taken to protect heritage in the latter regions, while rescue teams should be left unimpeded in their efforts to  save lives in the former. 

The circumstances in Syria differ significantly from those in Turkey. Prior to the earthquake, there were ongoing cultural heritage preservation and protection projects in Turkey, some of which HERITΛGE was fortunate to be involved with. One notable project, generously funded by the British Council’s cultural protection fund, focused on documenting cultural heritage in Antioch. The documentation from this project will prove invaluable in the aftermath of the disaster. Additionally, the project contributed to the development of skills in vernacular architecture, which will be vital for addressing the needs of local heritage.

HERITΛGE also participated in an Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation project in Mardin. This city, with its well-preserved traditional stone, religious and vernacular architecture, and terraced urban layout, was fortunately spared the worst of the earthquake’s impact.

Other projects, albeit less comprehensive, documenting primarily local religious sites were underway in the region. Their findings will allow the heritage community to compare data before and after the earthquake, providing valuable insights into the extent of the damage.

Civil society in the affected area has also mobilized to address the situation. Although their numbers are limited, several groups are diligently working to document the earthquake’s impact on heritage and ensure that relevant issues are addressed. The Turkish government has also taken steps in this regard, organizing workshops to enhance the capacity of engineers who will assess the damage. Despite the incalculable loss off life, there are still people on the ground who will contribute to assessing the situation in several locations within the less severely affected areas.

Given the circumstances, it is likely that extensive collaboration will be necessary to deploy additional teams to evaluate the damage in these — i.e. the region less severely impacted by the earthquakes. This area will serve as a precedent for future interventions, mapping, and documentation efforts in the most heavily affected areas. Mapping the damage to heritage in the region will be a challenging, painstaking, and sorrowful task. However, it is an essential endeavor that must be undertaken.

* You can watch the Plenary and more from Aliph Forum 2023 here.


*Dr. Evangelos Kyriakidis is the Director of the Heritage Management Organizatio (HERITΛGE). He made these remarks during a plenary of the Aliph Forum 2023 in Abu Dhabi in early March 2023, a few weeks after the earthquake. Plenary 4 “Safeguarding cultural heritage in the aftermath of the earthquake of 6 February 2023” was chaired by Dr. Mounir Bouchenaki, ad interim Chair of the Scientific Committee, ALIPH. 

Along with Dr. Kyriakidis, the speakers included:

* Mr. Luis Monréal, General Manager, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Switzerland

* Dr. Maja Kominko, Scientific and Programs Director, ALIPH

* Dr. Sarkis Khoury, Director General of Antiquities, Lebanon

* Mr. Mehmet Balci, Co-founder, Fight for Humanity, Switzerland

* Ms. Krista Pikkat, Director, Culture and Emergency Entity, Culture Sector, UNESCO

* Mr. Yves Ubelmann, CEO, Iconem, France 

 

 

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