Greece: Incorporating Heritage investment into development

Greece’s cultural heritage is one of the most diverse and rich patrimony whose value is multifaceted; cultural, moral, spiritual, political and economic.

Greece Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio Photo Courtesy Nikoleta Platia

However, at a crucial financial time like this, cultural heritage hasn’t been on the country’s priority list since it has falsely been conceived irrelevant to the core of the economy. Thus, the financing of heritage has faced growing competition from other sectors. As a result, it has been vulnerable to under-funding, disinvestment and over-exploitation.

Over the past years, narrow development models in Greece have overlooked the importance of cultural dimensions in urging and managing development, underestimating the innate economic capability of the cultural sector for empowering growth and competitiveness. Today, struggling to haul back from the brick disaster, overcoming such biases is a premise for incorporating new socio-cultural potentials into the country’s strategies and programs.

Many see development as a choice between history and sustainability, timeless continuity and radical transformation as well as tradition and modernity. A hasty assumption is that these must be at the cost of each other.

View of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus fron the Acropolis Photo Courtesy: Nikoleta Platia

Nevertheless, it’s necessary that our future will be equipped from our past towards grounding a sustainable development. Along these lines, the master key is to comprehend the opportunities derived from the intersection of culture and heritage within research and development programs, innovative science and state-of-the-art technologies.

Moreover, sensitivity to cultures enables research and development projects to fit better into their contexts, as well as, energizes stakeholders and facilitates participation and their budget-seeking prospectus.

An example of an innovative capacity building initiative is the Acropolis restoration service, which stand for its high quality and methodologies, as well as, its close relation with research and its technologically advanced applications. Contributing in stimulating public understanding and recognition of the accomplishments of the conservation profession, the collaborative effort of the Acropolis Museum and the Institute of Electronic Structure and Lasers (IESL) of FORTH, has been rewarded the IIC Keck Award on 2012.

Antikythera shipwreck collection at National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece Photo Courtesy Nikoleta Platia

The award correlates the Acropolis Museum’s successful approach in providing visitors the opportunity to observe surface cleaning procedures on the Caryatids famous female statues by means of a custom-made, innovative laser system developed by IESL-FORTH. Since 2010, millions of visitors have been introduced to the work of conservators, taking part not only in a fascinating process, but also in unique historical moments.

Watch: Conserving the Caryatids

“Greece’s culture and heritage are a competitive advantage of our country,’’ says  Costas Fotakis, Greek Alternate Minister for Research and Innovation. Along the process of enacting new laws governing how research is organized and evaluated, Fotakis sees a bright future for cultural heritage research and innovation.

“Provision is made in order to develop a pioneer set of investment projects in the cultural heritage sector,” says  Fotakis, who has  served as the President of FORTH, and is a professor at the Department of Physics of University of Crete. He also has a significant background in Laser Science for Cultural Heritage.

“The ongoing work concerns a flagship action entitled ‘Culture, Cultural Heritage, Research and Technology’, which aims to create partnerships between the cultural sector and innovative businesses, research centers and academic institutions that lead worldwide in this field,” says  Fotakis.

“The consortium is expected to develop initiatives that will highlight even more the cultural assets of the country and will convey the message of interconnection of ancient and contemporary Greece,’’ he adds.

It is true that the long term places with strong and distinctive identities are more likely to prosper, than places without them. Every place must spot its greatest and most unique lineaments, and further advance them. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being all things to all persons and nothing special to any.

The beneficial impact of cultural heritage on livability, economic growth, and local economic development has been increasingly studied and discussed in the last few decades. In fact, many cultural economists have been developing their arguments about the economic importance of cultural assets, based on concepts of heritage management and sustainability.

“To summarize, the financial crisis has indeed affected heritage management of cultural assets. Even though there are not substantially fewer human resources, there is more disinvestment from culture. However, this is not necessarily a bad position, as long as investment is done in a focused and well structured way,” says Dr. Evangelos Kyriakidis, Senior Fellow and Lecturer in Heritage Management, which is a  master’s program, Heritage Management  is an intensive three semester Master’s Program,   taught at Elefsina, Greece, and dually awarded by the University of Kent, UK, and Athens University of Economics and Business.

In 2008, Dr. Kyriakidis  launched the Initiative for Heritage Conservation program, which strives to promote good practice in heritage management. Since its beginning, individuals from more than 30 countries in less than 5 years, including employees of more than 7 ministries of culture, have been trained.

Dr. Kyriakidis also emphasizes on the investment in heritage and targeted training of human resources involved in cultural heritage management in Greece and elsewhere. After all, investing in heritage merits the worthy goals of nation building and cultural self-preservation, as well as, emphasizes its capacity to become a powerful engine of economic development.

Nikoleta Platia is a student of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art in Greece.

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