Matagorda County Museum Our Blog The Value of Cultural Heritage

The Value of Cultural Heritage

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cultural heritage

The phrase “cultural heritage” brings to mind artworks (paintings, prints, mosaics, sculptures), historical buildings and monuments, museums, archives, and collections of antiquities and artifacts. Cultural heritage has value in the sense that it is the collective memory and the legacy of past cultures and societies. This is why many people consider it a good thing for governments, philanthropies, and the private sector to fund and support institutions that preserve cultural heritage.

Aside from the financial incentive to invest in cultural heritage preservation, some people have a moral attachment to heritage and feel that it is important for future generations to have access to it. This is why the notion of a cultural heritage is often linked to human rights and international development goals.

In recent decades, authoritative organizations such as ICOMOS and UNESCO have significantly expanded the traditional definition of cultural heritage. It is now commonly used to include not only artistic and historic-artifacts but also their environments, known as cultural landscapes. It has also been extended to include non-tangible elements, such as literature, poetry, folklore, myths, and traditions of past communities.

Unlike other goods, which may be bought and sold at market prices, cultural heritage is unique and irreplaceable, and it is therefore often difficult to estimate its value. However, there is a growing recognition that some aspects of culture are not easily monetized and require a different kind of economic valuation. Among these are indirect use values, which are based on the enjoyment of the cultural heritage experience and the benefits that accrue to individuals and society.

These are not easy to measure and can vary greatly, depending on how the cultural heritage is accessed, for example, whether it is viewed in person or on television. There are a number of problems that arise from attempting to measure the value of cultural heritage, and some of these have important implications for policy.

A major challenge is that of preserving cultural heritage in the face of natural disasters and other damage such as fires, floods, earthquakes, and climate change. It is not always possible to restore destroyed buildings and collections, and even where they are repaired, they may not be able to fully replicate the original appearance. Moreover, some cultural heritage is intangible and not subject to ownership or property rights.

In these cases, the destruction or disappearance of cultural heritage is often regarded as a form of social and cultural genocide. Better estimation of the value of cultural heritage helps to place a greater emphasis on the need for governmental and philanthropic action to protect it.