Report of the International Conference: Intangible Cultural Heritage, Museums and participation (27.02.2018, Palermo)

Welcome & introduction

Rosario Perricone (Museo internazionale delle marionette Antonio Pasqualino), together with Alessandra Broccolini (SIMBDEA), Vito Lattanzi (Ministero dei Beni Culturali e del Turismo), Rosa Anna Di Lella (Istituto centrale per la demoetnoantropologia), Ignazio E. Buttitta (Fondazione Ignazio Buttitta) and Bernardo Tortorici, Prince of Raffadali (Vice Chief Cabinet of the Regional Ministry of Cultural Goods and Sicilian Identity) welcomed the participants.  

Jorijn Neyrinck (Workshop intangible heritage Flanders) continued with a brief introduction on the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Project (IMP), to which this International conference connects. IMP wants to explore the variety of approaches, interactions and practices on intangible cultural heritage in museums and investigate how museums can play a role in the safeguarding of these living heritage practices, by working together with its practitioners in this process (read more about IMP in the ‘about-section’). IMP does this by inviting people from throughout its five partner countries (The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, France and Switzerland), to share their experiences, successes as well as the obstacles they have encountered.

See PPT 

Keynote on ICH, museums and participation 

Janet Blake (Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran) presented a keynote titled 'Examining the Role of Museums in Taking a Participatory Approach towards ICH Safeguarding'. After introducing key concepts of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Blake discussed the shift from an object-centred paradigm to one that celebrates living heritage and the processes associated therewith. Blake discussed the challenges related to community participation in the different safeguarding measures that can be undertaken. Based on a screening of the Periodic Reporting by States Parties to the 2003 Convention, Blake found out that museums are pivotal actors in helping to integrate intangible cultural heritage into society and policies for sustainable communities. However, museums need to be able to expand their range of activities and re-consider their role within the local society and how they engage with local communities and groups. According to Blake:

  • —Local museums can be central to safeguarding specific ICH elements, often in cooperation with cultural communities
  • They can provide communities with educational, social, spatial capacities necessary to participate effectively in ICH safeguarding
  • Museums, sometimes in coordination with local cultural NGOs, may offer training courses on ICH management and inventorying
  • —Establishing documentation centres in local museums and cultural centres, some custom built for specific elements, makes access possible for many local communities

Additionally, Blake reported the following challenges in harnessing the role of museums: 

  • A general tendency to place a heavy emphasis on documentation and recording, rather than on seeking to enhance the function of ICH within society and the community
  • Museums have to re-consider how (and whether) to hold the tangible elements associated with an ICH element in a museum (masks, musical instruments, costumes, looms, cooking utensils etc.)
  • Avoid placing restrictions on their use by the ICH holders

Blake stressed that finding new ways to present and interpret ICH in museums is part of a wider movement towards a more community-based and less elitist conception of the museum, and provided an overview of some concrete inspirational examples: Mohács museum and craft house in Hungary, the Open Air Museum in Hungary and the Gilan Rural Heritage Museum in Iran.


Additional reading: 

Blake, J., 'Museums and Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage - Facilitating Participation and Strengthening their Function in Society', in: International Journal of Intangible Heritage 13 (2018) p. 18-37.

Blake, J., 'From Global to Local Heritage: Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Role of the Museum', in: Anthropology of the Middle East 10 (2016) 1, p. 22-40. 

Blake, J., Provocation paper: Living Culture, Identities and Sustainable Community Development. Taking a Human Rights-based Perspective to Community Participation (2015).

Inspiring museum examples on intangible cultural heritage

The International conference proceeded with five presentations from museums that work on intangible cultural heritage. 

  • Sigrid Bosmans from Museum Hof van Busleyden (BE) talked about Uw Toren Is Niet Af (Your Tower isn’t Finished), a museum exhibition preceded by a participatory trajectory. Intangible heritage was included in the exhibition for several reasons: they included different perspectives to an ICH-object to differentiate the story told in the museum, they showed actual practices on intangible heritage (e.g. carillon classes) to bring about interaction, ... The museum took the opportunity of raising awareness among several ICH-practitioners about the imporance of their heritage. Hof van Busleyden thinks a museums should act as a platform for experiment and imagination, and consciously creates space for projects that focus on processes. See PPT 
  • Annemarie de Wildt, curator at the Amsterdam Museum (NL) talked about the museum's future project about Amsterdam music: Representing Mokum/Damsko, in which the Jordaan songs will be compared and contrasted with present-day hip-hop. The project builds on contacts established in 2006, and the museum is eager to share its authority with the musicians involved. See PPT 
  • Céline Chanas, chair at the French Fédération des écomusées et musées de société (FEMS) explained the ideas behind the photography project Sortons des clichés! Over the course of 11 years, two photographers were sent out to document several practices of intangible cultural heritage in France, based on the suggestions given by museum members of FEMS. See PPTRead preparations 
  • From the Swiss Musée d'ethnographie de Neuchâtel, Grégoire Mayor introduced In the valley of images, an evolutive video research project that started in 2006. In his presentation, he explained that several types of conflictual situation may occur, and he underlined the importance of being aware of the position you have as a filmmaker, which is never a neutral one! See PPT 
  • Rosario Perricone, director at the Museo delle marionette (IT) explained the philosophy behind this museum, in a talk titled Museo della performance (A Performance Museum. The museum, borne from the idea to keep the puppetry theater alive, continues to this day its strive to support this Sicilian tradition by holding exhibitions, taking the lead in the application processes for UNESCO's Representative list of ICH, hosting actual performances, festivals, workshops and meetings with puppeteers, ... See PPT

Watch video

The practitioners' voice

Four Italian practitioners were invited to talk about their previous collaboration with museums: 

  • As a member of the Associazione Giochi Antichi (ancient games association) Diego Caloi plays the traditional S-cianco game in his home town of Verona. He sees a role for museums in promoting this intangible heritage by offering insight in their evolution and giving workshops. See PPT
  • Alessandro Ervas (El Felze, Venice) is a black smith who works in the metals restoration and archaeometallurgy of iron and copper alloys. Ervas has collaborated with museums and research centers for technological research and the production of compliant copies. He concludes that any specific craft and skill should be practiced at the place where they are actually developed and transmitted, and not in museums where they risk to be isolated from their context. Museums should be used for showing and understanding (promotion, sensitizing the public) intangible heritage, but no as final resting places. See PPT
  • Danilo and Giuseppe Folgori are members of a group of builders, that construct 'puppaze', used during festivals in Roviano. Together with the Museum of Peasant Civilization, they have held 'pupazza construction workshops', enabling the builders to talk about the construction of these puppets, but also about the contexts in which they are created, the anecdotes and stories about the group of builders. The cooperation with the museum provided the builders the opportunity to get themselves and their tradition known, and the opportunity to increase awareness of the value of the tradition. See PPT 

Watch video 

Working Groups

Based on the earlier presentations from the five museums cases from Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Italy, participants were asked to come up with recommendations during a workshop. They were asked to look for answers to the question: How can museums and practitioners of intangible cultural heritage work together in a successful and sustainable manner?



  • Define what does success means. How do you measure success? Define what is success for the different stakeholders and negotiate and define together. This includes governmental funding body (that expects to sell tickets). Argumentation! Responding to new sustainable development goals better.
  • Broadening sense of ownership (in the sense of ‘connection’! How is the wider community involved in the heritage?). Think of strategies of how stories can speak to broader public
  • Encourage discussion and social dialogue about the significance of the heritage that is being exhibited
  • Involve teams of curators to get multiperspectivity
  • Take the museum into the public space outside the museum walls (workshops etc.)



  • Cherish each others identity
  • Engage an out of the box thinker
  • A personal engagement with your stakeholders
  • Create relationships. Invite!
  • Personal stories give another glimpse to collection and tradition
  • Build up an exhibition with layers
  • Bring the community into the museum
  • Openness of all staff and of the practitioners



  • Negotiations: taking each other serious (museum vs. practitioners, openness and trust). What’s in it for you? What’s in it for us? Common ground?
  • Safeguarding ≠ collecting. What are differences? (Acoording to Blake: safeguarding is assemblage of tangible and intangible). “Sampling”. Museums sometimes hit and run
  • Find bridging figures between museum and practitioners (eg. Top Notch). Gatekeepers / Gamekeepers
  • Credibility: good practice from past cooperation
  • Convince marketeers to think out of their box



  • Connect communities (a network) and museum
  • The museum: open and friendly: workshop, open space
  • Share the collections: lending, website for collections, commons
  • Cooperation between: practiotioners & museum (cross department.) civic society in scientific committee



Taking into consideration that it’s quite impossible in ethnographic and anthropological research to give some general and universal recommendations, we find it useful to think about:

  • Being aware of the context where encounters and exchanges take place, and the way to do so / to go about has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • The ethno-docu-film is a medium to display a point of view, not “the” point of view. But it’s necessary be aware about the future use of images
  • The documentary film is an heuristic tool, not just an object, that enables a meta-level understanding and interpretation
  • The long time permanence allowing ethnographers to obtain trust and confidence
  • We must be aware that we are ever embedded in politics and reflexive strategies



  • Consider museums as 'territorial cultural districts' (as active subjects)
  • Consider museums as down-top organisations, able to sensitize local authorities on specific issues
  • Consider museums as education, museum and cultural mediators
  • Consider museums as 'places of visions', sensitive to territorial needs vs. (not necessarily conforming to the) mainstream policies
  • Consider museums as open spaces: having a responsive attitude and a receptive nature
    • > the museum goes out of the museum
    • > engagement of civil society
    • > a space to give answers, to say ‘YES’: an empty, free space
watch video
Concluding observations

The expertise of Lauso Zagato (Ca’ Foscari University) lies in topics such as human rights and humanitarian aspects of heritage, UNESCO conventions relating to peace and on the Council of Europe Framework Conventionon the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro 2005).

Zagato explained that the ratification of the 2003 Convention on ICH was not wholly enthusiastically received by anthropologists in Italy. They were afraid it would contribute to the ‘freezing’ of heritage. Zagato applauded the work of the museums that were present during the conference, who have provided evidence of the dynamic linkages that do exist between museums and intangible heritage.

He further pointed to the fact that national laws are necessary to be able to implement international conventions, such as the 2003 UNESCO convention on intangible heritage. These laws clarify these conventions and make their implementation possible. Zagato conluded that intangible heritage should be seen a specific human right, based on texts and dialogue between texts. Cultural rights are collective and belong to communities and groups, according to him.

watch video

Click here to proceed to the report of the Expert meeting on intangible cultural heritage, museums and participation.