In blue blazers, hats, and ascots and white pants, a band of sailors played oom-pah to announce the beginning of the 17th General Assembly of ICOMOS, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, during an opening reception at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. At this week-long conference, 1,219 experts from 106 different countries convened to discuss this Assembly’s theme: “Heritage, a Driver of Development.” The keynote panel, featuring four Frenchmen, but no representatives fromAsia orLatin America, expounded on how, why, and when cultural heritage can push development.
What is the best way to collect data? What is the best way to manage a cultural heritage site? What is the most effective way to preserve the world’s cultural heritage? Suggestions came from all over: Paul Burtenshaw and Chiara Bonnacchi of UCL gave an excellent talk on archaeology and data gathering; theAlhambrainGranada,Spainwas cited by several speakers as a well-managed monument, and James Rebanks emphasized that you have to make preservation an economic reality.
SPI Founder and CEO Larry Coben urged investment in locally-owned and self-supporting businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the cultural heritage site. By presenting several case studies that applied this unique paradigm, he showed that preservation and development are most effective when they operate in tandem. In the words of Coben, it’s about “people not stones,” a notion prompting the shock and delight of at least one French heritage expert.
However, the ICOMOS conference, if anything, shows how far most preservation organizations have to go to drive economic and social development: “While everyone here is talking about achieving economic and social goals, involving the community, and getting young people involved, SPI is actually doing it,” Coben said. “It’s about practice not just theory, though I have plenty of theory.”
In addition, there was a glaring lack of undeveloped countries and rural sites being discussed at the conference. “With a few exceptions, the focus here was primarily urban, primarily the developed world,” Coben remarked. “Everyone is talking about social and cultural benefits, but no one is talking about feeding poor people.”
Except SPI. With its new paradigm that focuses on both preservation and development in impoverished local communities of cultural heritage sites, SPI is paving the way for a new kind of preservation. One that everyone is talking about and one that will change the world in the process.