What Future for Cultural Heritage? Perceptions, Problematics and Potential

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Nov 11, 2019
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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What Future for Cultural Heritage? Perceptions, Problematics and Potential

Report from the latest program in the Culture, Arts and Society series explores perceptions of the past, problematics of the present and potential for the future

How we think about the past and ourselves determines how we understand the present and how we build for the future. Cultural heritage shapes how we see the world. It influences the philosophy of societies and impacts education. It is based on knowledges, perceptions and contexts. Cultural heritage connects people to their histories, languages, values, traditions and lifestyles. It informs who we are as human beings and shapes our identities.

In today’s volatile world, links to the past and to place have become more tenuous and contested, and threats to cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible – are extremely difficult to counter. Against this complex backdrop, the Salzburg Global Seminar program What Future for Cultural Heritage? Perceptions, Problematics and Potential asked what cultural heritage actually means to different people and regions, especially in the digital era, and why it is more important than ever to preserve, enhance and share cultural heritage through all available means.

The March 2019 program, part of the long-running Culture, Arts and Society series, brought together creative thinkers and groundbreaking practitioners from around the world to reflect on and critique current approaches to cultural heritage, and to explore new frontiers in heritage innovation and collaboration.

The report from this program is now available online to read, download and share.

Download the PDF

Participants engaged in a highly interactive program that included plenary discussions and smaller work groups, curated conversations, informal interactions, knowledge exchanges, and practical group work. The program was structured along a continuum of inquiry, with three main focus areas:

Perceptions of the Past

Together and sometimes in contention with each other, participants interrogated the historical frames through which cultural heritage is viewed and how such predetermined frames color the view and value of cultural heritage. Discussions included reflections on ownership of knowledge, heritage and identity, and the exiting notions of tangible and intangible heritage.

Problematics of the Present 

The second strand of the program sought to explore the broader social and political contexts surrounding cultural heritage and to address ways to tackle the manifold threats to cultural heritage including climate change, overtourism, conflict, and a general lack of resources. Discussions addressed issues including restitution, the intentional destruction of heritage, and sustainable development.

Potential for the Future

Participants then transitioned to identifying some concrete and creative recommendations to energize the field in the face of its enormous challenges including intergenerational engagement and establishing connections between cultural heritage and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

This report presents the key points of discussion, debate and learning from the Salzburg program, as well as recommendations developed by the participants.


What Future for Cultural Heritage? Perceptions, Problematics, and Potential is the latest program in Salzburg Global’s Culture, Arts and Society series. The program is being held in partnership with the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, Fulbright Greece, and the Korea Foundation. For more information on the program, please click here.