People engaged in maintaining any aspect of this province’s distinct culture will have a first-ever opportunity to influence government policy and safeguard heritage at a forum that kicks off on Wednesday.
The forum brings together international and local custodians of culture to focus on ‘intangible cultural heritage’ – a relatively new term for the old knowledge, traditions, art forms, language and customs that together create a distinct culture.
“We tend to think of heritage in its most tangible forms – buildings, artifacts – without realizing that other forms can help people acquire a richer, more detailed understanding of their history and heritage,” said David Bradley, chair of the Association of Heritage Industries, the lead coordinating agency. “This forum will look at the issues from both a local and international perspective, and offer practical solutions to people who want to preserve heritage in their own communities.
All participants can help craft recommendations for safeguarding our heritage that the provincial government has asked to have developed. Newfoundland and Labrador is the first province to undertake the creation of an official policy on intangible cultural heritage, and those involved in the forum agree that the need is urgent.
“All the things that comprise intangible cultural heritage are the things that make us different as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It’s our distinct knowledge and skills, our music and dance and stories, the way we celebrate and mark occasions. It’s all the things that give us a sense of identity,” said Memorial University folklorist Dr. Jerry Pocius, who has worked in this area for years. “This is living knowledge that is very adaptable, but it only takes one generation to neglect it and then it’s lost forever.”
Coordinated by the Association of Heritage Industries (AHI), the four-day event will be held on Memorial’s St. John’s campus.
“Memorial is a fitting place to hold these important discussions and to emphasize the importance of our unique heritage,” said Dr. Axel Meisen, president of Memorial University. “This university has long been engaged in the crucial work of researching and preserving the intangible cultural heritage of our province. Our Department of Folklore ranks amongst the very best in the world.”
He noted that Memorial became the first English-speaking university in Canada to offer a complete range of degrees in folklore in 1968. Its graduates have risen to senior positions, and they have become articulate voices for the values of intangible cultural heritage. A Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA) on the St. John’s campus is the repository for tens of thousands of texts, images and audio-visual explorations of Newfoundland and Labrador's cultural tradition. As well the university has recently made ethnomusicology and endangered languages priorities for research and preservation.The Living Heritage Forum brings world leaders to St. John’s to offer insight, including Rieks Smeets, head of the Intangible Heritage Section of UNESCO in Paris. Experts from across North America and around the world will talk about what has worked in other jurisdictions to address the challenges of funding, preserving and showcasing aspects of intangible heritage.
In addition to presentations and panel discussions, the four-day event will feature showcases on boatbuilding, ballad singing and storytelling.
On Thursday, June 8, a free public event, Cultures Alive at The Rooms, will feature a full evening of performances and demonstrations highlighting the province’s diverse cultures; www.therooms.ca will carry more on this event.
A full program is available here: http://www.arts.mun.ca/ich.