Conserving The Cultural Environment For The People, With The People
The Finnish Adopt a Monument programme created by Pirkanmaa Provincial Museum is one of the tools created for the attainment of the vision “the cultural environment is maintained for the people, with the people”. It is is founded on the realisation that the only way to achieve culturally sustainable development is to employ soft conservation, a method that rests on communication and facilitation.It is related to the concept of 'soft power' meaning that the “best propaganda is not propaganda” and the goal is to change and influence social and public opinion through more innovative and participatory ways. This insight has been crucial for the developers of the Adopt a Monument programme, especially since the museum is the regional authority on antiquities, which annually issues hundreds of statements on the preservation of the cultural environment in conjunction with land use and development. The museum realised that this was not enough, because cultural environment sites are local and they need to be recognised and appreciated by the local community in order to be properly maintained. The programme staff has, over time, come to understand that the desire to do something for one’s environment comes from within. Although the desire to preserve a site can be sparked by cognitive reasons, the motivation and the need to act must be present beforehand. Or as the Finnish proverb observes:“You can't fill a well by bringing water to it” – meaning just that: the will has to come from within.
The museum began developing its Adopt a Monument methodology by organising information meetings and searching for suitable sites for adoption. The first phase took a year: studying the subject, assessing the legal framework, preparing adoption forms and site management templates, selecting adoption sites and drawing up preliminary management plans. The first sites were adopted in 2009.In those first years, our Adopt a Monument programme only covered archaeological sites, mainly because Finnish legislation regarding them was so clear. In 2013 the programme was extended to cover built heritage as well.
The Adopt a Monument programme was awarded the Europa Nostra Grand Prix in 2016 in the category of Education, Training and Awareness-Raising. The prize was awarded to not only those who had drawn up and organised the programme, i.e., the museum, but to everyone who had participated in its implementation: namely, the volunteers and key players. The programme’s development over the past ten years has involved a huge network of communities and individuals. We have also received support from official bodies, including the National Board of Antiquities, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the City of Tampere.
Sites That Need Adoption – Adopters Who Need Sites?
Sites in the Finnish Adopt a Monument programme include historical and Iron Age defence fortifications, Iron Age cairns, a medieval church, Iron Age dwelling sites, a dry stone wall marking a town boundary, and an abandoned limestone quarry. The programme also includes younger sites, such as an old granary, a kiosk, a telephone booth, a bandstand, a manor house cellar, abandoned technical structures such as measuring huts and storage houses. The museum aims for adoption sites that combine need, practicality and symbolic value. While the sites should not to be too difficult to manage, it is however important that they give an opportunity to engage in concrete, tangible management work.
One thing that the museum is coming to increasingly realise is that instead of selecting sites and then searching for suitable adopters, it may in fact be more important to search for suitable volunteers and then look for a site for them to adopt. In the early stage of the programme, the museum employed the first approach. The museum inevitably assumed a “do-gooder” role and would often feel it was its duty to convince people of the importance of cultural heritage and accept the needs of the programme as their own. In this way it took a lot of time and persuasion to establish groups; yet they also never proved to be long-lasting. The museum finally had to accept that the needs of the programme volunteers are a priority. Such a shift in focus would benefit the museum and the programme alike if the museum were to take on the role of facilitator by ensuring that sites are put up for adoption in the proper manner and that relevant information is always available.
The Adopt a Monument programme enjoys the support of a team that consists of several professionals in the Pirkanmaa Provincial Museum: archaeologists, building researchers, a building restoration expert and a local cultural history researcher. The programme provides the adopter network with training, meetings, excursions and other types of events. Adopters are the VIP customers of the Vapriikki museum centre.
An adopter group can be a community, an association, a company or a public entity such as a school. Some volunteers have even established registered associations specifically for the purpose of adoption. Some of the events and workshops for the management of a site can be open to the public as well. No previous experience is required, nor any special skills or knowledge of cultural environment issues. Tasks that require specialised skills are performed by professionals, either when the site is being set up for adoption or in the course of its regular maintenance. Such work is always coordinated by the Pirkanmaa Provincial Museum.
There are currently more than 400 volunteers involved with the programme, and their number is growing year by year. The concept has been adopted elsewhere in Finland.
The body in charge of organising the programme should assume the role of a facilitator. It provides adopters with relevant information and training, handles tedious paperwork and agreements and conducts negotiations on the adopters’ behalf when necessary. It is important that cultural heritage sites are managed correctly and in compliance with relevant laws, agreements and acceptable management plans. The main mission of the adopters, however, is to make the sites accessible and to bring joy to themselves and others. Other important values to be kept in mind are a sense of community, hands-on management work and tolerance.
The idea of tolerance is built into the Adopt a Monument programme in that its aim is to promote understanding of cultures and generations that may seem foreign today and to preserve their monuments. The concept can be used to nurture all kinds of cultural encounters. It can be used to reach people whose needs are not directly related to the management of cultural heritage but for whom encounters in a cultural heritage context are conducive to wellbeing. Such groups include non-traditional heritage audiences, which are vulnerable for a number of different reasons; e.g., people who do not share historical or traditional contacts with their current environment. The suitability of the Adopt a Monument programme for work with immigrants has also been tested to successful results: some adopter groups include refugee members and the programme can offer them activities and encounters with the local population.
More experiences with the programme and best practices have been collected into a publication that is available for free at www.issuu.com
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