Matagorda County Museum Our Blog The Importance of Cultural Heritage

The Importance of Cultural Heritage


cultural heritage

Whether in the form of a historical building, an ancient craft, or a traditional story, cultural heritage embodies the collective expression of human ingenuity and artistry. It connects communities to their past, empowering them with a sense of identity and a new way to envision the future. Preserving and passing on cultural heritage helps to give communities a strong sense of purpose and the ability to withstand challenges.

This is why it’s important to understand how we define cultural heritage, and to appreciate the enormous cost of its destruction. We have techniques well suited to estimate the value of movable objects like paintings, coins, and Faberge Easter eggs, but the more difficult task is to measure intangible values such as social cohesion, identity, and resilience. The purposeful actions of nonstate armed groups, militias, despotic governments, or invading armies in attacking tangible cultural heritage inflict losses that far exceed their physical destruction—and are akin to both cultural and social genocide.

The world’s cultural heritage requires our care, attention, and protection. It’s a responsibility that falls to every citizen, from refusing to buy illicit artworks on the black market and on unauthorized online resale sites to engaging in community advocacy and interfacing with governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

In recent years, authoritative agencies such as UNESCO and ICOMOS have expanded the definition of cultural heritage to include not just historic-artistic artifacts but their environments, known as cultural landscapes. They have also broadened the concept to include non-movable and intangible elements, such as literature, poetry, myths and folklore, historical events, and traditions.

Cultural heritage is more than a record of the past—it’s a powerful engine for economic development. The maintenance and operation of cultural heritage spawns extraordinary secondary economic activity, from artisanal, design, fashion, and performing arts businesses to the hospitality industry that serves visitors. These enterprises and the jobs they create, especially in places with high unemployment rates, are often a vital source of stability and well-being, particularly in countries recovering from disaster or conflict.

Investing in cultural heritage can have a positive ripple effect on the economy, especially in developing countries with growing populations of young people eager to engage in creative work and to find jobs. In order to ensure that this opportunity is not missed, we need to increase the support for and recognition of heritage conservation as a core industry. This will require new approaches and a broader vision of what constitutes cultural heritage, and what can be done to protect it and to ensure that our descendants have the same chance for a better future.