Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Heritage Without Borders

Dominica D’Arcangelo, Who in the world cares about cultural heritage?, Museums+Heritage Advisor, 12 April 2016

Heritage Without Borders works with cultural partners across Europe, Asia and the Middle East affected by conflict and since its establishment in 2009 has placed 50 UK heritage volunteers. However, director Dominica D’Arcangelo says as a charity relying on grants, funding is unsustainable and a more enterprising business model is needed.

I’ve been working in the international heritage sector since 2007.  In the UK I have seen that practical, hands-on international heritage work can easily fall between funding sources – it is not seen as life-saving ‘development’ work, nor is it eligible for other sources of cultural heritage funding which tend to be interested in benefits to the ‘UK heritage sector’. It is right that in conflict zones individuals’ safety and security are paramount. Water, food and shelter must take precedence over artefacts and built heritage in active conflict zones.  However, when rebuilding begins, cultural heritage takes on a special significance. Communities affected by conflict know better than anyone else that heritage plays a significant role in remembrance, peace and reconciliation.

In 2009, I co-founded a charity called Heritage Without Borders as I, along with colleagues, saw an international need for conservation skills. Many regions of the world have a desire for museum skills like interpretation and object conservation, but lack the means to acquire them. On the flipside, in the UK hundreds of students each year are being educated in a broad range of heritage specialist subjects like object conservation, archaeology, museum and heritage studies. Upon graduation, those individuals enter a highly competitive environment where jobs are scarce. HWB’s founding principal was to bring early career UK individuals together with international colleagues to achieve several objectives at once:

  • To work in international host institutions to solve real problems that actual professionals are facing by running very practical, hands-on workshops;
  • The upshot of this skill building approach is to save heritage whilst growing international networks. Professionals meet across borders in ways that they never would otherwise; and
  • Finally, but just as importantly, we would give our volunteers a unique experience, build their skills, confidence and give them something amazing for their CV as well as a leg up in a very competitive labour market.

Our working model has been well tested. We have placed more than 50 UK heritage volunteers and worked with a total of 154 participants from 13 countries, partnering with over 28 museums in regions including South East Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

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