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Charles Thomson reports on the European Cultural Heritage Summit 2022

Prague, 25-27 September 2022

It was truly wonderful to be in Prague - amidst its extensive and many-faceted historical landscapes -to join many others in some of its lesser-known historic buildings to meet, welcome and celebrate this year’s 31 award winners.

I was personally very keen to go as I am a trustee and executive member of The Friends of Czech Heritage, a Member Organisation, which enjoys good relations with the Czech National Monuments Institute, their State equivalent of the National Trust/English Heritage. For me one of the main benefits were meeting other delegates – including several from the UK with whom I was already acquainted – and others who mostly spoke excellent English, the language of the Summit. As indicated below, the range of projects and subjects for discussion were impressively wide. An additional benefit was the opportunity to become acquainted with historic buildings of which some (for example, the Mayor of Prague’s residence) had limited access to the public.

Previously referred to as the ‘Congress’ and held every year in a different European city, this year’s Summit incorporated a welcome reception, presentations by the award-winners, cultural visits, the annual General Assembly meeting, the Heritage Awards Ceremony (highlight of the Summit), and an ‘Agora’ the following day – to discuss the most pressing challenges now facing cultural heritage in Europe. In the opening session, Europa Nostra’s Secretary-General, Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, paid tribute to the Chair of Europa Nostra in the Czech Republic, Petr Svoboda, for all his work in coordinating the Summit programme in Prague.

The ‘Heritage Excellence Day’, held in the Czech Museum of Music, incorporated five sessions entitled ‘Quality Principles for Heritage Interventions’, ‘Heritage-led Innovation and Digital Transformation’, ‘Enhancing Intangible Heritage & the Transfer of Skills’, ‘Cultural Heritage as a Vector for Social Cohesion & Wellbeing’, and ‘Climate4Heritage: Empowering Climate Action and Sustainability through Cultural Heritage’. These titles did not entirely coincide with the award categories (see below) but served as focal points for brief discussions within each session which were moderated by a heritage professional (Sara Crofts moderated the third session).

Visiting the waste water treatment plant

There were five categories of award: Conservation & Adaptive Reuse (8 awards); Research (4 awards); Education, Training and Skills (6 awards); Citizens’ Engagement and Awareness-Raising (10 awards); and Heritage Champions (3 awards). These incorporated a wide range of sites and places across Europe- for example: a WWI coastal battery, mausoleum, convent, and naval hospital; a Sicilian puppet theatre; wooden heritage in Norway; Jewish food heritage in Warsaw; ceramics and shirt design in Romania; Sami cultural heritage in Finland; the rediscovery in Italy of the longest hiking route in the world; the historic Lumbardhi cinema in Kosovo; dry-stone heritage in Spain; and not least, in Ukraine, the comprehensive restoration of St Andrew’s Church in Kyiv.

The General Assembly meeting incorporated discussions on the newly created ‘Heritage Hubs’ in Krakow and Athens, and contributions from official representatives of these two cities.

Ministers and officials within the Czech Republic, which currently holds the six-monthly Presidency of the European Union Council, were present during the Excellence Day. The Summit received a substantial contribution to its costs from the European Union’s ‘Creative Europe’ programme. The EU also contributed substantially to the recent renovation of the State Opera of Prague, where the Awards Ceremony and the celebration of the award-winners took place.

Musical interlude at the Awards Ceremony

The Policy Agora ‘For a Value and Culture-Driven Europe’ was held in the spacious neo-Renaissance ballroom of the Zofin Palace, located across a short bridge south of the Old Town on the iconic island of Slovansky and incorporated an opening session, three discussion panels, and a closing session. Introduced and concluded by the Secretary-General of Europa Nostra, the panels included a wide range of speakers, including Europa Nostra’s Executive President, the mayors of Athens and Lisbon and their equivalent in Krakow, the Czech Republic’s Vice-Minister for Cultural Heritage, the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, the Vice-President of ICOMOS, and senior professionals across Europe, some of whom presented awards. The three panels, each of which were allocated an hour-and-a-quarter, were entitled: ‘Mobilising forces and voices in solidarity with Ukraine’s cultural heritage’; ‘Cultural Heritage as a catalyst for peace and solidarity’; and ‘Beauty and sustainability at the core of Europe’s green transformation’.

In the closing remarks, EN’s Secretary-General was preceded by Petr Svoboda, Chair of Europa Nostra in the Czech Republic, who thanked everyone for contributing to a successful and enjoyable Summit.

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