Stupa as cultural heritage

The Importance Of Being Earnest About Cultural Heritage

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have failed to see at least some of the media commentary on ongoing cuts to funding for cultural heritage (which I’m broadly defining as including intangible heritage, historic built environment, and archaeological investigation) . You might think, so what?

The Importance Of Being Earnest About Cultural Heritage

On Monday I had the pleasure of attending The British Council‘s The Missing Pillar Talk: Working together – culture, place and partnership for sustainable development. The thread running through The British Council’s talks and publication about the Missing Pillar is that, although only give a marginal role to cultural heritage, there is substantial evidence of the connection between culture and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

One of the reasons that investing in cultural heritage matters is if we want to be good ancestors to the generations that come after us. As Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales said in the talk, for any development to be sustainable it needs to be delivered in a way that meets the needs of the present ‘without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. If we don’t invest in protecting the cultural heritage that we have now, it simply won’t be there for those that come after us and a rich resource to meet their needs will be lost.

Cultural heritage can support poverty reduction (SDG 1) and supply decent work and economic growth (SDG 8). Cultural heritage can generate income directly, Claire McColgan, Director of Culture Liverpool, told us that 48% (£270m) of Liverpool’s economy comes from the cultural and creative economy. Cultural heritage generates income and drives sustainable growth and job creative through by attracting tourists who visit and purchase sale of locally produced goods and indigenous knowledge. We were also told about the contribution that protecting built heritage in Bradford made to its appeal as a place to make film and TV by David Wilson, Director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film.

What is perhaps less obvious is the contribution of cultural heritage to good health and well-being (SDG 3). Claire told us that 19% of what makes a difference to health and well-being is engagement with culture and the arts. Chris Murray, Director of Core Cities UK told us that by some measures mental health is twice as bad in cities than rural areas – and suggested that cultural heritage should be part of managing and building cities in a way that promotes health and wellbeing. This is  particularly pertinent when we consider what is needed to recover from Covid. When people have suffered a great disconnection to their sense of place (a deep seated psychological need), cultural heritage will be important in healing this disconnection.

Looking at this kind of data makes it clear that it would be a mistake to discount cultural heritage as airy-fairy. It shows the importance of acknowledging the contribution it can make to improving people’s health and well-being, driving poverty reduction, economic growth, and job creation, and ensure that this development is truly sustainable.

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