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Innovation and Cultural Heritage Conference – 2018

Cultural Heritage Is Limitless Source of Innovation:

In March, I was invited by Europa Nostra to a high-level conference in Brussels organized by the European Commission. Together with Anna Karla Almeida, we created a buzz on social media platforms both for Heritage Times and Creative Europe.  

The conference agenda put together for Horizon 2020 in the Year of European Cultural Heritage was very busy with three commissioners present, politicians, a diverse range of researchers including scientists, museum curators and experts of social sciences and humanities.

I loved being at the conference; it was an exciting place to be; by the end, both Anna and I were exhausted by the extensive coverage of topics and the showcase of interdisciplinary work in cultural heritage.

The setting was the fascinating Royal Museum of Arts and History of Brussels which provided a very motivating environment for discussions about European cultural heritage and innovation.

I have a career in cultural heritage and worked as a tour guide for many years before I founded my own travel company, so cultural heritage is the core of my business life. Over the years, I saw that at the end of a day, visitors forget the technical facts of what they visit but they never forget the feelings they had while they were there.

Do you remember the diameter of the Pantheon or do you remember the euphoria you had when you first witnessed the divine architecture that humans created?

It’s been almost four weeks now, and I remember the conference being very intense, focused and I left the day with a promising agenda that more was to come.

At times I felt overwhelmed trying to understand why would anyone dare to touch a Picasso yet restore it with some new chemicals ( I was not alone in the room) and at times I felt very powerful seeing how EU citizens have access to their universal cultural heritage.

Anyone who travels to Europe feels connected to this diverse and unique heritage. They want to go back to it because it awakens their curiosity and stimulates their creativity. Cultural heritage is a bridge between people ( locals and travelers alike) so that they want to experience it again and again.

As Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society said:

“Europe is blessed with an immense cultural heritage which can provide us with a sense of a shared identity and inspire us,’ adding that, ‘digital transformation may play an essential role in protecting this heritage.”


I was personally interested in listening to discussions how this thematic year could offer an incentive to discuss EU’s vision for improving policies that democratize access to cultural heritage in Europe for present and for the future. I live in Turkey and manage an online walking tour business in Estonia which is a solid example of how tourism and technology open up opportunities for sharing cultural heritage beyond borders and continents.

It’s a notable attempt in this extraordinary year of cultural heritage ( EYCH 2018) to assess the potentials and challenges of a shared European cultural heritage. As a tour guide, I visited many sites all around the world, and some were the UNESCO heritage sites. This initiative by UNESCO internationalized cultural heritage and people all around the world were curious to see, list and share the places they’ve been. So, I was interested listening to a particular session learning about the “The Third Regime,” mainly after 1990s-, corresponding to a renewed institutionalization of cultural heritage based on European history.

This new regime changes object-oriented approach to a value-oriented approach. It’s a remarkable shift where the value of cultural heritage is argued as a significant social and economic impact on society. So, this third regime is considered as a source of democracy and well-being.

I feel, there’s more to this subject that needs to be discussed and I am sure we’ll see more of it in EYCH 2018.

This conference was the first place where I heard of the European Heritage Label ( EHL).  Why is it different from the World Heritage List and why do you need one?

My take away from this session is quite enlightening:

  • Anyone can enjoy European Heritage (EH) sites on their own or as part of a network. Once at the EH site, they can get a real feel of what they can take from Europe’s cultural heritage, its achievements, and offerings to the rest of the world.
  • EHL wishes to focus on promoting European dimension of sites and finding ways to offer access to these sites.
  • EH sites is a promotion of the European narrative and the history behind it; rather than just the beauty of what you see.


Later on, I was able to connect this idea when I listened to Commissioner Moedas, in charge of research, Sciences, and Innovation, saying: 

“Cultural heritage is a limitless source of innovation where traditions meet with cutting-edge technologies. Our ambition is to make Europe the world leader in heritage-based innovation with support from Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation funding programme.”

EHL could be one of the ways we could use to get cultural heritage work for Europe and connect past with the future with digital innovation. Because he said, “ we want to keep the leadership in cultural heritage and be the number one tourism destination.”

And to put into a more robust taking, he added that 12 million jobs were created from cultural heritage in Europe.

Commissioner Navracsics in charge of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport, said:

Research and innovation are our great allies – they offer advanced solutions and technologies to achieve this. “

He was particularly mentioning the idea of how we can use cultural heritage for the benefit of the future.

I was very attracted to his idea that visiting, enjoying, protecting cultural heritage has a passive meaning, but there’s also an active meaning to it that covers:

  • Taking cultural heritage out of museums and putting it in everyday life
  • Using cultural heritage as a source of energy for innovation
  • Understanding how achievements of the past could benefit the young people’s involvement for the future.

Later on, listening to Gabor Sonkoly who was passionate about an innovative and integrated cultural heritage research, one question was how cultural heritage became so academic and can the EU propose a more flexible and multi-angled point of view?

According to him, experience was a key term and experiences could not be digitalized. Although, a significant take away from the conference is that digitalization is a keyword and it is a visible instrument of democratization.

How can the EU unleash the potential of European Cultural Heritage?

It was great to hear that “First time, there was a merger between the Cultural Committee and Industrial Committee and this year culture has something to do with the core of European projects. “

One other subject everyone was interested in listening was, of course, the funding of these projects as part of EYCH2018.

Between 2014 and 2020, the EU is expected to invest €500 million in research and innovation on cultural heritage to achieve three objectives:

  1. Improve Europeans’ skills on cultural heritage.
  2. Involve citizens better in making decisions about cultural heritage.
  3. Promote the role of science and technologies in cultural heritage.

The challenges  to achieving these objectives were identified as:

  • Lack of finances
  • Bureaucracy
  • Lack of participants
  • Quality of services
  • Sustainability of measures

My closing note is by Piero Baglioni:

“Increasing access to cultural heritage generates income. Member states of the EU are responsible for preserving cultural heritage. The Union also has the obligation towards its citizens to ensure that Europe’s heritage is safeguarded and enhanced through innovative methods. “
















1 Comment

  1. Anna Karla Almeida

    It was a real pleasure participate and sees some of the greatest researchers in Europe. Plus, work as Social Media Volunteer to share the highlights from the Conference! These investments in innovation and research of culture in Europe are so much important in the background of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018!

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