The increasing importance of NGOs in safeguarding ICH

I recently had the honour of representing MGS at the 12th Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) meeting held in Jeju, Korea, for the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Korea gave us a great reception, showcasing their own remarkable ICH at the opening ceremony. This was also my last appearance representing the ICH NGO Forum steering committee on which I have served for the last two years.

MGS was the first non-government organisation or (NGO) in the UK to be accredited as an expert advisor to UNESCO for the 2003 Convention. Museums often work in the intangible as they bring meaning and knowledge to the objects in their collections. There is no UNESCO Convention dedicated to museums, however, a recommendation in 2015 showed how museums can link to the raft of cultural conventions which firmly includes the 2003 Convention. MGS has been working with this Convention for the last 10 years as it empowers communities to make decisions about their heritage at its heart. The Convention ensures that community is central to every aspect of its implementation, and the state is there as a facilitator and supporter. In Scotland, we have embraced this concept, and were one of the first countries to adopt an inclusive definition, which includes all ICH happening in Scotland, such as migrant communities. We also adopted a ‘wiki’ approach to the inventorying of ICH, which is an important part of the Convention. At anyone can create a record of the ICH they either practice or think is of national importance to Scotland.

NGOs play a very prominent role in the implementation of the Convention. The accredited NGOs such as MGS have, over the last five years, started to organise the forum to contribute to the Conventions at all levels. It was wonderful to be part of this development in global policy setting and to be a member of the inaugural Forum Steering Committee, along with six colleagues from around the world. I was also given the honour, along with my colleague Antoine from Quebec, of reading the NGO statement to the full IGC meeting with some very large screens behind me!

I was overwhelmed by the fantastic enthusiasm of our Scandinavian colleagues, who have all copied our approach to inventorying. Finland, where ICH sits in the museum unit, came to us to learn from our approach in Scotland. Norway, where ICH also sits in the museum unit, has also recently launched their inventory and both Sweden and Denmark have also followed suit. They are all cooperating with a Scandinavian partnership and have launched a joint website.  It was also good to meet a representative from Ireland, who recently ratified the Convention, and were putting forward the Uilleann pipes to the Representative list. They had initially gone to Finland for advice, before realising what has already been achieved in Scotland!

So, come on UK, there is not really any reason not to ratify this Convention. We have pioneered a cost-effective and inclusive approach to inventorying, which many see as one of the most challenging aspects of the Convention. Scotland is seen as innovator and leader in this global context for ICH.

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