Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Art And Cultural Heritage Make For Better Cities


Guizhou-Chiang-Khong, China
Hello Everyone:

Recently, yours truly came across a very good opinion piece by Hester Alberdingk Thijm on NextCity titled "Art and Heritage Are Key to Creating Strong Cities That People Want to Live In."  Hester Alberdingk Thijm is head of the AkzoNobel Art Foundation (http://www.artfoundation.akzonobel.com), which sponsors the Human Cities Initiatives (https://www.akzonobel.com/aboutus/human_cities/).  Ms. Alberdingk Thijm writes about the importance of art and cultural heritage in creating more vibrant and unique cities.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the People's Republic of China.  She begin her op-ed article, "By the end of the decade, as many as 100 million Chinese people will migrate from rural areas to live in cities."  This means, "According to China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage, more than 900,000 villages have disappeared in the past 10 years as cities prepare for the influx..."  The loss of 900,000 villages, the backbone of China's cultural heritage, is staggering but there are ways to protect cultural heritage and preservations the places and spaces that make our cities unique.

The Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam, Netherlands
The urgent necessity of cultural heritage protection has recently become front page news with daily reports of wonton theft and destruction of ancient treasures.  The first question that comes to mind is "Why aren't we protecting our heritage?"  Ms. Alberdingk Thijm writes, "I believe that, the trouble is, heritage does not really have an owner."  This is a simple truism. Cultural heritage has no one owner, it belongs to everyone.  She continues, "Our post-Second World War culture of subsidizing art, culture and architecture has created a negative situation in which, as civilians, we no longer feel responsible for maintaining our collective cultural heritage." Again, another truism.  It seems that we have abdicated the responsibility of protecting our collective cultural heritage to governments and institutions.  This situation is compounded by dwindling civic funding for the arts and cultural following the 2008 economic crisis.

Mission Concepcion
San Antonio, Texas
 The AkzoNobel's Human Cities Initiatives is attempting to address the need for balance between public and private stewardship, encourage public pride and embrace their local heritage, "and help preserve the places, spaces that make our cities unique."  Ms. Alberdingk Thijm cites this example, "...through the AkzoNobel Art Foundation-set up to create an outstanding contemporary art collection for tomorrow's generation-we open spaces up to local communities and around our sites and offices.  It offers people a chance engage with amazing works of art inspires them in a way that only art can."

Another truism written by Ms. Alberdingk Thijm, "Heritage is not, of course, just about conserving the past; it also very much about the present and the future."  We live our lives in 24-hour digital cycle-we share our every moment on the social media pages, call for a ride via an app, buy our groceries through another instead of going to the neighborhood grocery store.  This app driven world has eroded communities and we are losing touch with each.  Yours truly agrees with Ms. Alberdingk Thijm's statement, "Art, culture and heritage can bring people together once more, instilling in people a sense of pride and belonging."

Edinburgh, Scotlan
From a pragmatic point of view, heritage conservation can help pay the bills.  Inscription in the annual UNESCO World Heritage list "...can increase per capita income by more than 10 percent in certain regions, according to the International Monetary Fund."  (see sitesources.worldbank.org/EXTSDENT/.../Economics_of_Uniqueness.pdf)  Ms. Alberdingk Thijm's organization recently assisted with the restoration of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, home to AkzoNobel.  As a result of the restoration of the museum, the number of annual visitors increase to 2.45 million, "...making it the most visited museum in the Netherlands in 2014."

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System

Heritage conservation is attractive.  The 2015 Monocle Quality of Life survey of the top 25 cities in the world ranked Tokyo as the most attractive place to live.  Also making the top 25 were Vienna, Stockholm, Munich, and Zurich. (http://www.monocle.com)  What makes these cities so attractive to talent people is that they embrace 21st-century innovation as well as put a great deal of time and effort into preserving their historic resources, "...creating 'real' but relevant places where people want to live, work, invest and raise a family."

The next time your city or government wants to slash its cultural budget, let officials know that their benefits to be reaped from having a "strong physical and cultural heritage."  The future depends on it.

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