The Belgian small town Mechelen hosted the conference for non-governmental organizations active in the field of heritage – Heritage Care through Active Citizenship – on March 23-24 2009.
The 135 international and 45 local delegates represented a wide spectrum of the NGOs active in the field of heritage. The participants represented local, regional, national and European organizations, various umbrella organizations, and networks.
The idea to unite the NGOs engaging in the field of European cultural heritage comes from three Belgian NGOs. The joint action is based on a shared belief in the importance of active citizenship for enhancing the democratic values in the society and the importance of the role of the heritage organizations with regard to local and European policy and a shared commitment to propagating a broader concept of heritage.
In 2005 the three Belgian NGOs joined forces to consider the roles, responsibilities, needs and opportunities of the heritage organizations in the contemporary European context. This resulted in a research project and a survey, which revealed that the information on heritage organizations and non-governmental organizations in Europe is very fragmented, while their diversity, when viewed from the broader concept of heritage, is greater than ever. A broad network of currently active heritage organizations was set up – the Inventory of Heritage Organisations in Europe, available at www.heritage-organisations.eu. The register is kept up to date and welcomes new members.
Inspired by the results of the First European Conference on the Role of Voluntary Organizations in the Field of Cultural Heritage (Oslo, 2000), the partners felt the need for a new European conference that will strengthen the civil society movement in the field of heritage. The objective of the Mechelen conference was, in addition to uniting people with the same views and beliefs, to show the strength and enthusiasm of the NGOs, appreciate and support their activities and initiatives, and to stress the persisting need for similar, grass-roots level initiatives.
The two-day conference contained plenary sessions and workshops. Among the plenary speakers were, to name a few, Dag Myklebust (Directorate for Cultural Heritage, Norway), Annick Schramme (University of Antwerp, Belgium), Marc Jacobs (FARO, Flemish Interface for Cultural Heritage), Simon Murray (National Trust, UK), Hervé Glevarec (CNRS, France), Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović (Europa Nostra), Daniel Thérond (Council of Europe, Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage).
Parallel workshops were held on the following topics: The local connection – Heritage, place & communities, The people connection – Heritage & volunteers, The trans-border connection – Heritage & networks, The transmission of cultural heritage: intangible heritage and heritage education. Call for action – Active citizenship in the field.
Five Estonians also participated at the conference. Kristin Kuutma from the University of Tartu held a speech at the plenary session and introduced the pursuits to preserve Kihnu and Setu culture. She was also among the speakers invited to participate at the conclusive discussion. Baltic Heritage Network was represented at the conference by the President of the organization Piret Noorhani and the secretary Karin Kiisk. Piret Noorhani introduced the activities and experience of BaltHerNet and the Baltic Audiovisual Archival Council during a workshop. The activities of BaltHerNet were also summarized by a poster presentation. The Estonian Heritage Society was represented by the Chairman Jaan Tamm and Vice Chair Helle Solnask who also participated at the Oslo conference.
The conference was closed with an overview of the activities of the workshops. The presentations and conclusions of the conference are available at www.heritageorganisations.eu/.