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Community Empowerment and Cultural Heritage in a Globalized World


Cultural heritage is a complex concept encompassing the facets of culture and history that people value and engage with, including objects, landscapes, traditions, memories, daily practices, historical narratives, and cultural values. It is tied to personal and group identity and can be used to bring people together or be exploited to marginalize groups. People engage with heritage through behaviors that range from visits to historic sites and traditions to scholarly research, educational programs, government policies, preservation efforts, and tourism.

While UNESCO’s work in the area of cultural heritage has been lauded, its efforts have been criticized for not being effective enough to protect against the growing threats. Heritage conservation is too often treated as a second- or third-tier policy priority. In this article, I discuss how a different approach, built on community empowerment and multi-scalar understanding of the concept of cultural heritage, can offer new avenues for conserving heritage in a globalizing world.

The world is a highly interconnected place where families are moving, ethnic communities are settling in cities and rural areas, and industrial towns are being transformed by shifts in global economic patterns. Across the United States, nonprofit cultural heritage organizations are helping to build and sustain a sense of community in this tumultuous environment by connecting people with their shared histories, traditions, and identities.

These connections can be forged in many ways, including by celebrating neighborhood and city-wide traditions like fairs, festivals, and community cultural centers. They can also be built through the shared experiences of attending art performances and concerts, taking part in folklife programs, or learning about a foreign country’s cuisine or music traditions. In addition, many of these cultural heritage organizations have a singular focus on providing arts programming, particularly for underserved populations such as African American-affiliated and Hispanic-affiliated organizations that primarily provide dance and theater programming.

All of these activities are important for building community, fostering social cohesion and tolerance, and supporting diversity and inclusion. However, in order to achieve these outcomes, cultural heritage organizations must have a solid financial foundation. Most cultural heritage organizations are small, and their limited budgets can inhibit their ability to effectively serve the needs of their communities.

Moreover, the current financial crisis in many countries is making it even more difficult to fund their work and ensure the preservation of our cultural heritage. The lack of funding is threatening the viability of these important organizations, which must work in an increasingly complex and volatile environment.

Blue Shield is committed to ensuring that the work of these organizations is not diminished. By protecting these institutions, we can help ensure that people’s unique cultural heritage is not lost in the midst of conflict and disaster. This is why we are working to raise awareness about the importance of this work and why we support the work of these incredibly important organizations. It is critical that we do all we can to protect these cultural heritage sites and the communities that are so vitally connected to them.