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World heritage

First international conference highlights the mutually reinforcing mission of World Heritage sites and museums, UNESCO, 4 November 2016

World Heritage sites and their associated museums are working with both local communities and international heritage professionals not only to preserve, but to help people maintain and reinforce their relationship to their shared cultural and natural heritage.  Together they are facing threats and challenges like conflict, climate change and funding shortages.

An International Conference on World Heritage Sites and Museums, co-organized by UNESCO and the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARCWH) in cooperation with ALECSO, ICCROM, ICOM, ICOMOS and IUCN, took place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, from 2 to 3 November 2016.

“Museums allow us to understand the outstanding universal value of our World Heritage sites. They allow us to engage on a personal level. As they tell the story of the place, they bring communities together. The benefits they bring are immeasurable, both for the international visitor and for the local population,” said Shaikha Mai bint Mohamed Al Khalifa, Chairperson of ARCWH (Bahrain), in opening this first-of-its-kind conference on the links between World Heritage sites and museums.

Today, 1052 cultural, natural and mixed World Heritage sites are home to thousands of museums, many of them “site museums” or institutions engaged in site preservation and promotion through their collections.  “Such museums are custodians, conveners, mediators and educators.  On the one hand they contextualize archaeological discoveries and assist in scientific research, on the other hand they present us with world history and our own history – showing how connected we are across regions and the globe,” explained Azedine Beschaouch, of the Institut de France and former Minister of Culture of Tunisia, in showcasing the example of the Site Museum of Carthage (Tunisia).

“We need to make heritage more relevant to local communities” stressed Molly Fannon, Director of International Relations at the Smithsonian Institute (USA). “If people see this as their own heritage, if they value it and connect to it, they will work to protect it and our museums and heritage will become more resilient.”

This is why many museums are offering interactive exhibitions and workshops for children and students, the most important target audience to pass this message to.

The latest museum trends were explored.  Examples included the new Acropolis Museum in Greece whose archaeological site is an integral part of the visit, the National Palace in Mexico City where young people experience historic monuments both first hand and through digital technology, Lebanon’s Museum on a Bus showcasing the World Heritage site of Tyre to villages across the country, or Mali’s regional and historical museums in Gao, Sikasso and Timbuktu where local populations are involved in restoration work and development of exhibits.

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