Yesterday we hosted a really intersting live chat on the topic of 'When is heritage?'. That is to say - how old does something have to be to be considered heritage?
We invited some guests along to talk about their HLF-supported projects which deal with what might be considered 'contemporary' heritage.
First up, my colleague Fiona clarified HLF's official stance. We put a time-frame of 10+ years on heritage when it comes to acquisitions (this is to differentiate ourselves from other funders who might be more appropriate, for example, for applications to acquire contemporary art), but for pretty much all other types of projects “anything is in scope”. For something like intangible heritage, how that culture and those memories are experienced today is as important as how it was experienced in any point back through history.
This was highlighted really well by Sinéad, who tuned into the live chat to share her project about SPAN housing: “We have oral histories from residents who have lived in SPAN homes for 70 years and have much heritage to share, and we have oral histories from couples who have moved in the last 3 years, but without those new histories we wouldn't understand the changing context of the community.”
Oral history stood out as a mode particularly well-suited for capturing contemporary heritage.
One of our guests, Sav, an oral historian, said: “Although some people criticise oral history for looking at the micro [personal] history rather than the macro [wide sweeping themes], we can find out an awful lot about change by talking to people who experienced it, and find out what influenced them to take the actions they did.”
And I think that's a really important point, and a really important aspect of a lot of the projects we fund: exploring that granular detail, and capturing the experiences of people who were there - while they're still here - is so important, and will be such a valuable resource for future generations.
Another grantee who tuned in, Bill, said that it's often those not directly related to an event, or a place, which are best able to see its improtance: “Sometimes it is the outside audience appreciating the heritage that makes those closest to it realise it is special after all.”
Sav agreed: “Very true, pretty much all interviewees [except the occasional great and good] always say, 'why do you want to interview me, I've got nothing special to say'.”
But as we say, people and place are at the heart of heritage, and should be at the heart of the applications we receive.
From HLF's point of view, it was lovely to hear this from one of the chat participants, in response to why they chose us as a funder: “We knew that we had access to a history that was on the verge of disappearing, and the best way to safeguard it was to collect, and we wanted young people to collect. As far as we could see, no other funder was more appropriate for the strands of our project.”
To that end - (top tip for potential applicants, here!) - Fiona says: “I'd like to see more projects from younger people exploring their heritage now or using their heritage now to link back through generations, perhaps though fashion or music?”
So there you have it - some thoughts on contemporary heritage from us, and our grantees who have been there, and/or are doing that type of project.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please leave your comments - or questions - below.