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  • Paris in the Autumn (Weekly blog, 3 November 2019)

    Posted on November 4, 2019
    A blog by Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General

    Last year, I was in Paris around this time for the Salon du Patrimoine with INTO members, Rempart. This week, I’ve been back again.  Part holiday, partly for the 2019 European Heritage Summit.  Europa Nostra events are always such a treat.  They invariably take place at superb venues.  And involve politicians, the European institutions and local organisations, as well as Europa Nostra members from across the continent.  Paris was no exception.

    Award winners

    I spent my first evening at the European Heritage Awards.  Hundreds of people had packed the historic Théâtre du Châtelet in the heart of the city.   And they were not disappointed.

    The Award winners had presented their work the day before, which sadly I had to miss.  However, there were brief videos introducing the 27 winners.

    I was particularly inspired by the work of the RomArchive, digitising Roma culture across Europe. The Stewards of Cultural Heritage who are training displaced people from Syria. And of course the Fortidsminneforeningen, the oldest ‘National Trust’, which won a Dedicated Service award.

    Praising the Paris Pompiers (firemen)

    It was a wonderful celebration of European heritage, with strong French involvement.  Particularly, the extraordinary efforts of the firefighters at Notre Dame.  The Notre-Dame Choir sang movingly in front of footage of the fire.  The Brigade Chief, General Gallet, also gave a heartfelt speech, which brought everyone to their feet.  All it all, a passionate and poignant evening.

    Some quotes which stood out for me:

    • “It’s philanthropy that will save our heritage” – Guillaume Poitrinal, President of the Fondation du Patrimoine.  (This was later echoed by Ambroise Fayolle, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank.  He said “there is not enough public money available for European heritage and we need to find other sources of funding”, such as participative financing or PPPs.
    • “Culture will help us realise that there is more that unites us than divides us” – Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport

    Public policy in Paris

    The following day, Europa Nostra held a policy debate at the magnificently restored Collège des Bernardins.  Europa Nostra’s indomitable Secretary-General, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović introduced the day by saying it was “politique, pas technique” and she wasn’t wrong.  A steady stream of politicians and functionaries shared their thoughts on the role of cultural heritage in reviving the European project.

    To be honest, policy interests me less than technical or practical learnings.  But this was an interesting theme, especially for us here in the UK! And there’s always something to learn or stimulate ideas.

    I loved all the talk about the relevance of cultural heritage and the need to democratise access to culture.  Also what we can learn as a European heritage sector from Notre Dame.   But the more challenging voices were particularly interesting:

    Heritage and the future of Europe

    • How can cultural heritage help Europe be ‘cool’ again? asked André Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation.  André also raised the question of the €65 bn ploughed into agriculture, when most farmers are against the EU!
    • Lydia Carras, President of Greek organisation, Elliniki Etairia, talked passionately about four crucial things: Walking – Eating/Abstaining – Learning – Conserving.
    • Business is leaving our cities and owners are turning their homes into AirBNBs. This means that historic centres are empty and dying. (Sébastien Maillard, Director of the Jacques Delors Institute) Some learning to share from the Main Street programme?
    • Gijs de Vries of the European Institute of the London School of Economics said that the “most endangered form of cultural heritage is the art of living together”.  His antidotes were to listen and learn more languages, reinvest in European citizenship and put our money where are values are (i.e. cultural heritage).

    Climate change

    This panel felt rather like an INTO one.  Indeed, Fabrice Duffaud of Rempart, said he thought he was back in Bali!

    Andrew Potts spoke about historic sites demonstrating retrofitting and incorporating climate change into their storytelling.  Like at Edinburgh Castle.

    Justin Albert, NTEWNI Director for Wales and Trustee of INTO, cited three things we need to do to accelerate planning for climate action: Tell the truth; strive to be carbon neutral; and talk more about climate change (through a People’s Congress).

    When asked about climate change actions sometimes feeling rather ‘anti-nature’, Andrew responded robustly: “Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is the biggest single thing we can do to save beloved landscapes”.

    Graham Bell of Cultura Trust spoke to the Innocastle theme: “The role of private historic estates is undervalued.  There is huge pressure to run them economically and sustainably.   And threats to future of rural economy are increasing.”


    Lastly, I loved this quote from Célia Vérot, Director General of the Fondation du Patrimoine. “It’s not lack of funds, fire or storms that’s ruining our heritage, it’s indifference”.  It completely reaffirms the findings of our 2016 State of Global Heritage Report!

    I’m writing this blog in the air between London and Boston.   Paris seems a distant memory, but the bells that were mentioned there often will continue to resonate.  And we will continue to find ways to work together with Europa Nostra. Perhaps with a focus on our 2021 ICNT in Antwerp?  And/or the Innocastle project, which felt so relevant during these discussions.

    You can watch the streaming here.


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