Cultivating traditions: are they of use to museums?

The intangible cultural heritage at the centre of the annual conference of the Association of Swiss Museums and ICOM Switzerland, to be held at the Museo Vincenzo Vela on 26 August 2010


The 44th annual conference of the AMS (Associazione dei Musei Svizzeri) and ICOM Svizzera will be held this year in Ticino, at the Museo Vincenzo Vela in Ligornetto, on the afternoon of 26 August. The half-day of discussions, which will go under the title of Cultivating traditions: are they of use to museums?, will focus on the theme of the intangible cultural heritage. A definition of this term will be clarified and the presentation of its reality within the spaces and programming of Swiss museums will be discussed.
The theme is of great topicality. In 2008 Switzerland ratified the convention promoted by UNESCO in 2003 and signed by 116 countries, whose purpose is the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The convention provides for a list to be drawn up of the customs, traditions and practices that form the basis of the cultural diversity of the various countries so that these can be protected and their continuity ensured. In autumn this year the pilot phase of the national inventory of the intangible cultural heritage will be launched in Switzerland. The inventory has been drawn up by the Federal Cultural Office, which has defined its criteria, and which, after a two-year trial period, will assess the applications for inscription that the individual Cantons will have assembled and sent to Berne. An important aspect of the drawing up of these data is the contribution made by the upholders of these traditions, who in many cases perpetuate their contents and methods by practising or implementing them. For this reason the term "intangible heritage and living traditions" is often used. The great challenge represented by the inventory will thus be the attempt to find concordance between the scientifically ascertained value of a particular element of intangible heritage and the value accorded it by the community to which it belongs.
During the first part of the afternoon, following the general introduction to the theme by Gianna A. Mina, Director of the Museo Vincenzo Vela and a member of the AMS committee, Diego Gradis, Vice-President of the UNESCO Commission, will illustrate the basis and aims of the convention, and Walter Leimgruber from the University of Basel will offer an academic view of the role that museums might play in the treatment and presentation of living traditions. Contributing to the round table that will follow will be David Vitali (representing the Federal Cultural Office), Franco Lurà, Director of the Cantonal Centre of Dialectology and Ethnography, Thomas Antonietti of the Association of Vallesano Museums, and Marc-Olivier Gonseth, Director of the Ethnographic Museum of Neuchâtel. The discussion will tackle several specific cases of museums and public entities involved with the intangible heritage.