Examining the Role of Museums in Taking a Participatory Approach towards ICH Safeguarding

by Dr Janet Blake, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and academic member of the Centres of Excellence for Education in Sustainable Development and Silk Roads Studies, Shahid Beheshti University (Tehran).

As much as heritage has classically been celebrated in international law for its universal value, it also carries a special meaning and value for local and bearer communities (and the groups and individuals that comprise them) that has only recently been accorded recognition by the international community. The significance of heritage to local actors has become much better understood over recent years in international law, in particular through the adoption of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). This treaty calls for a greater democratization of the heritage protection paradigm, in particular through community participation in the identification, safeguarding and management of ICH. Starting with a brief review of the character and content of ICH within the context of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention, in particular its definition and the innovative participatory and bottom-up safeguarding paradigm introduced in that treaty as well as its wider human rights and sustainability contexts, this talk focuses on the role that museums can play in supporting safeguarding ICH under the 2003 Convention and, in particular, this participatory approach. An important instrument to be considered in this regard is the Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society adopted by UNESCO in 2015 and its relevance to this question is also examined. Various examples of ICH-specific museums and community-based exhibitions are introduced in order to seek to identify the most appropriate approaches for museums to respond to the needs of this heritage and, in particular, of the communities, groups and individuals who create and maintain it and whose identities are, at least in part, constituted through it.