UK Government has confirmed its intention to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that “the UK Government has confirmed its intention to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which seeks to protect the crafts, practices, and traditions which are recognised as being key part of national life and providing a sense of identity to communities across the UK.” 

ICOMOS-UK welcomes the UK Government’s confirmation of its intention in due course to ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention. The UK’s intangible cultural values range from story-telling and spoken word to festivals and performing art, to religious and social rituals and practices, crafts knowledge and skills, culinary practices, traditional health systems to knowledge and social practices concerning the universe, and many more. Some of these cultural expressions have been passed on from one generation to the next for centuries and, in the process, have evolved to meet environmental conditions and the needs of practicing communities. We are also witnessing a fusion of intangible cultures in the UK creating yet another new genre!

Clara Arokiasamy, the founder and chair of ICOMOS-UK’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee set up in 2012, who is also the President of ICOMOS-UK, stated:

“The UK’s unique, diverse, layered, and vibrant intangible cultural heritage or living heritage which showcases the shared histories, heritages and identities of multi-cultural Britain is the envy of Europe and the world.  For many communities in Britain their intangible culture is the only form of heritage they have access to and can  practice to express their identity.

For the past decade the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee has worked tirelessly to encourage  the UK to ratify the 2003 Convention. ICOMOS-UK is the only organisation that gives voice to all genres of intangible cultural heritage and promotes their indivisible association with tangible objects, buildings and landscapes and sites. Its work in championing the promotion of intangible values leading to today’s announcement has been a long journey and has comprised seminal and exemplar conferences, projects and roundtable meetings. ICOMOS-UK’s round table meeting on ratification in December 2021 was key to identifying a range of models of ratification for the UK and included the “lift not list” model mentioned in DCMS’s consultation process. I am pleased our work has helped to bring about this positive development.”

The Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee’s commitment to raising the profile of intangible values and the need for ratification by the UK to date  has involved constant engagement and collaboration with UK’s culturally diverse practicing communities who embody their cultural traditions and practices, community groups and NGOs representing intangible cultural heritage, the DCMS, heritage sectors including museums and arts organisations, funding bodies such as the Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund. The committee has also collaborated with UNESCO and other nations in Europe who are signatories to the 2003 Convention. This work has been a catalyst in helping many of the organisations in the UK to integrate intangible cultural heritage into their work.

ICOMOS-UK looks forward to working with the DCMS in progressing the Government’s planned consultation process during 2024!

For further reading

What is Intangible Cultural Heritage? UNESCO summary

Exploring Intangible Cultural Heritage in Museum Contexts Report – ICOMOS-UK

DCMS Consultation on the initial implementation stage of the Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage