The Isle of Man is a strategically positioned island in the middle of the Irish Sea between England, Ireland and Scotland and with strong historic sea-links north to Norway. The island has remained independent from all these countries but exhibits a fascinating mix of these cultural influences.
As a small nation, the Isle of Man has given priority in recent year to a re-valuation of its cultural and natural heritage as a platform for its community pride and international reputation.
This project provides a perfect microcosm for study of this phenomenon in modern Europe, across the full range of cultural and natural heritage assets. This has led to a strategy to link all the Island's heritage sites in a co-ordinated way providing added value for a national heritage strategy.
This has led Manx National Heritage to undertake a series of major heritage projects in recent years, emphasising the interaction between monuments, museums, historic landscape and the
local and tourist communities. This has involved projects in castles conservation, exhibitions interpretation and display; development of large new museums and interpretation centres, and the development of a new strategy for linking monuments in the countryside context for the public.
The recognition of this essential community dimension to the shaping of the past - what I prefer to call "the heritage process" - has driven much of the work of Manx National Heritage (MNH) over the last fifteen years. The MNH philosophy envisages the museum (in its widest sense, including landscapes, monuments, wildlife, etc) as a public space for intellectual enquiry and popular debate; the natural gateway for a citizen's right to access information for understanding and discovery of truth based on a common experience and heritage.
MNH now operates a unified and co-ordinated heritage service all around the Island. There are now 13 staffed sites, almost 4,000 acres of preserved landscape and over fifty monuments and a number of other preserved structures in our care.
For many people, the properties, monuments and scenic landscapes protected and managed by Manx National Heritage are crucial elements of the Island''s self-image - a testament to the historic achievements and culture of the Manx people. It would appear, judging by the widespread public support MNH enjoys, that the philistines are in the minority. Membership of the Friends of Manx National Heritage is more than 6,000 strong - the largest subscription supporting organisation in the Island - and there were almost half a million visits to MNH sites last year.
We have won a number of prestigious international awards for this multi-site, interdisciplinary approach to heritage management, - 12 awards in the last 15 years - including the British Museum of the Year Award twice and a special award in the European Museum of the Year competition. Last year we won the Classic Award in the annual Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence. The award was for the best sustained heritage development programme over several years. MNH beat off stiff competition from major organizations and projects from Britain, including the National Museums of England and Scotland, the National Trust, the National Science Museum and the new pound;45 million pound development of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.
The judges considered that The Story of Mann was a perfect candidate for the award owing to its continued growth in quality, popularity and recognised international success. They were impressed by how The Story of Mann concept brings together the Island's historic, natural and cultural assets under one banner, emphasising the value of involving the public in the all-embracing approach to the preservation, protection and presentation of the Island's heritage assets.
MNH almost scooped another award on the night. The TT Centenary Exhibition "Staying the Course" which proved so popular with the public in 2007 received a highly commended award from the judges and was only just beaten to the main award in the temporary exhibition category by the multi-million pound Chinese Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the British Museum.
A model for multi-site, interdisciplinary heritage management for defined territories of Europe has been created and has attracted international attention from many other European countries. This co-ordinated project for heritage preservation, presentation and promotion has been recommended as "a model" by the Council of Europe's "European Landscape Convention" committee.
An important result of this co-ordinated strategy has been greatly increased visitor numbers to 14 main heritage sites, and much greater involvement with the educational community to influence both high level university research, and also the general school curriculum.
A second important outcome has been the creation of a much higher profile for our heritage assets in our Government's "national branding" strategy for economic and community benefit, linked to the promotion of a positive national and international identity.
This multi-site, multi-disciplinary project shows how a co-ordinated strategy for heritage promotion and management can result in a "revaluation" by the community of how it values its heritage assets. It will examine how this "new value" be expressed in both local community results, and added value at the international level. From our experience, it is clear that a co-ordinated community revaluation of its heritage is of great value both locally and internationally in establishing the basis of added community stability and economic stimulus, while at the same time, preserving the integrity of national or local identity as a positive aspect of "added value" for the future.
The issues which emerge from this exercise relate to quality, culture, continuity and community - all of which are critical elements of any museum's considerations. This "heritage process" - in which we are all engaged, is fundamentally linked to the needs of our modern community and not some abstract indulgence inhabiting the fringes of relevance for people today. Who creates and sustains the sense of a national culture or heritage?
There are two kinds of heritage: the heritage a nation has and the heritage it feels it needs. The former gives it its curriculum, the latter its identity. The importance of heritage is not necessarily "the things" - not an object or a collection of objects, not necessarily the buildings or the hillsides, nor the folksongs, poems or traditions, attractive, ancient or precious as they may be.
Rather the importance is in the value judgements that the community makes by preserving these things; appreciating them; allowing ourselves to be influenced by them to the extent that they influence our perception of ourselves - the way they become, perhaps, some kind of outward reference point for our inward sense of identity.
The process has had its moments of controversy, but it has also engendered a new enthusiasm about the potential for museums and heritage sites to bring stability, integrity and financial stimulus, and a great sense of pride to the changing needs of a modern community.
Key Facts about the Isle of Man and the Manx National Heritage "Story of Mann" project.
In the last fifteen years of this "Story of Mann" project:
- the population of the Isle of Man has risen from 60,000 to 85,000 in a landscape of 580km2
- the level of tourist visitors to the Island is c. 200,000
- the number of sites operated by MNH has risen from 4 to 13
- the number of visitors to MNH sites has risen from c.250,000 to 490,000 each year
- public subscription membership of MNH has doubled and is now the largest supporting organization in the island.
- the Story of Mann project has won 15 awards in the last 12 years.
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