Getting engaged with cultural heritage in Europe

How do Europeans get access to cultural heritage? Which are the individual characteristics that determine that they recognize, choose and enjoy different elements inherited from the past? Knowing more about which groups benefit more from the preservation and access to cultural elements from the past is important for cultural managers and policy makers across Europe. Societies accept the challenge of preserving elements, of investing public resources to guarantee its conservation and must, at the same time, adapt to new demands from different social groups.

The 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage offered the opportunity to better know how Europeans access heritage, with a Eurobarometer survey that collected information for a sample of 27881 individuals in the 28 countries. It investigated engagement with cultural heritage and perceptions and attitudes of the European population. Apparently, it is the youngest and more educated people the ones that are more aware of the existence of heritage around them. They are more likely to recognize heritage elements. It is the more educated people the ones that access tangible heritage (in the form of museums, monuments, archives…), take part in intangible heritage manifestations and access heritage using digital means. After controlling for other factors, the individual characteristics related to higher levels of education are the ones with the greatest impact in the probability of heritage access and in determining a higher intensity of access (for instance, in the form of number of visits).

There are also big differences in terms of the place of residence and the size of the place where people live. This is somehow challenging, as Europe has a rich, diverse and important cultural and natural heritage linked to rural areas and cultural landscape. We probably need more educative and advocacy actions to raise awareness about the importance of that type of cultural heritage for the communities where it is located that contribute to their conservation and transmission. Cultural heritage in Europe is not only about big monuments and cultural infrastructure but mostly about intangible and tangible assets that are meaningful for the communities that preserve and remember and reinterpret their values. The promotion of the “participatory governance” of cultural heritage by European institutions should enhance the processes where responsibility for cultural heritage and its stewardship is shared among its multiple stakeholders, so decisions are taken by communities rather than by experts and gatekeepers.

Author: Victoria Ateca Amestoy is a member of the Spanish Association of Cultural Heritage Managers. She is Associate Professor at the Department of Economic Analysis of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in Bilbao. Her research areas are Cultural Economics and Social Indicators. She is a contributor to the Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe and has also participated in several European research consortia: “Assessing Effective Tools to Enhance Cultural Participation in the EU” (Culture 2007-2013), “PRO-Heritage” (H2020), “Managing Arts Projects with Societal Impact”, “Higher Education Institutions for Societal Engagement”, and “Heritage PRO” (Erasmus +)

This blog article is based on: Ateca-Amestoy, V. (2018). Cultural Heritage Participation. Models for individual engagement and evidence for the EU. Economia della Cultura, 28(4), 419-432.


(Picture: This is a photo of a monument indexed in the Spanish heritage register of Bienes de Interés Cultural under the reference RI-51-0000298)

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