Multicultural City, Histories & Traditions
Heritage in the UK represents one of the most discriminatory, socially inaccessible areas within Arts & Culture. It is without doubt, that young people, (in particular those of ethnic minorities groups) are consistently alienated by the constant juddering of colonialist, white male archetypes, philosophies and traditions upheld in narratives brought to life, and often supported by heritage organisations across the region.
One challenge has always been, “who’s heritage is it?”. With territoriality at the heart of the question of heritage, it is not difficult to see where some (without money, power or influence; often our young) are removed from the process of defining what their heritage is, nor connect with it.
Without engaging the young of our city to participate, create and express their heritage, we find ourselves in danger of endorsing a false, often oppressive historical narrative, at the detriment of history and to future society.
Funding for heritage projects are aimed at supporting organisations, over individual actors, who wish to explore heritage issues within the public realm. In addition, heritage funding bodies like these, set the socio-political definition of what is heritage; partitioning and limiting funding support to, ‘areas of interest’ set by their governance.
The legitimacy of existent ‘universal definitions’ of what is considered heritage, and what is not, restricts potential community groups, the opportunity to explore the preservation and celebration of other cultural assets, not recognised as heritage, within their urban space. With young people unable to represent themselves independently; often looking towards local community groups, or larger organisations to represent them, they soon discover themselves marginalised.
New Interpretations, applications and value considerations
We must consider what value a historical object, quality or tradition holds through the lenses of our young people within our cities. We must re-explore what our city’s young wish to preserve, celebrate and ultimately inherit.
Consecutive studies need to be performed by, and with young people of the city in order to challenge existing assumptions around youth engagement, with heritage and culture. We need to provide our young people the space to assess, and make recommendation to which cultural assets they find significant and want preserved.
We must move away from the fear of losing heritage skills (i.e. Blacksmithing, Glasswork or Lathe Turning), and from coercing our youth into believing their failure to identify with such traditions as their heritage, will result in a capital loss for their generation. Through arts and technology, we can start to re-imagine the relevance of these skills in our digital world.
Conservation of our heritage is an ongoing responsibility, with the duty of heritage organisations to bring about an intergenerational equity. More emphasis should be placed on enabling young people of mixed ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate in the transformation of the built environment, allowing young citizens to move towards being the creators of new history and new cultural heritage.