Loyd Grossman, chair of The Heritage Alliance, gave the keynote address today at “Culture Matters: The International Cultural Heritage Conference”. This was a passionate and articulate plea to value heritage in our society.
He initially posed the question, “Why is it hard to value culture?” This raised the concern that there are some in our society (or societies) who do not value culture and cultural heritage. The talk ranged from “flagship assets” (like the Tower of London and Stonehenge) to “the less aesthetic” such as bunkers from the Cold War. Interestingly “aesthetic response” was a theme that emerged from the “Not praising, burying” seminar at the McDonald Institute seminar in Cambridge last week.
Heritage has played its part in urban regeneration, but Grossman posed another question, “Why do we measure cultural value?” He suggested that we live in “an audit society” where heritage competes alongside health, education (and defence).
His strongest section was the reminder that heritage policy making is not hampered by a lack of information. He cited the examples of Gateshead and the formation of creative industries, or of Liverpool as capital of culture. Indeed tourism is the fifth largest industry in the UK. What was important was that heritage drives tourism: tourists come to see the castles and the stately homes (and more!). Grossman urged the conference to articulate the link between heritage and tourism. He wondered if the ever increasing demand for more data and information was intended to ensure that the heritage sector was “kept busy” and not raising more difficult questions.
Grossman made it clear that there was a hunger for authenticity and tradition, and this is why heritage in the UK was so important. He felt that the heritage sector “had lost its voice” and had rather taken comfort in the arms of statisticians. His main concern was that the cuts to the heritage sector, and English Heritage in particular, could be very damaging.
Grossman also reminded us that heritage adds to our quality of life, a quality that cannot always be measured.
This was a strong case for why Culture Matters to the people of the United Kingdom (and beyond).