Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Cul­tural Cru­sader

MAG­NIF­I­CENT coun­try houses, cas­tles, docks and sta­tions, cathe­drals, churches and chapels, his­toric mills and homes, canals, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains, his­toric land­scapes and gar­dens are just some of the high­lights of Bri­tain’s rich and di­verse her­itage. The nation also en­joys an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned, highly pro­fes­sional and ded­i­cated move­ment that works hard to care for them and to bring them to life, not to men­tion a cre­ative, coura­geous vol­un­tary sec­tor that is the envy of many other coun­tries. Th­ese riches are es­sen­tial to the tourism and cre­ative in­dus­tries, so much so that they were one of Bri­tain’s 12 USPS in the Gov­ern­ment’s glo­ri­ously suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional brand­ing cam­paign, Bri­tain is Great.

Athena was, there­fore, de­lighted to see last year’s Cul­ture White Pa­per, in which the Gov­ern­ment stated its am­bi­tion to im­prove or main­tain the UK’S global soft power rank­ing in terms of cul­ture. All is not well with this am­bi­tion, how­ever.

In­deed, wor­ry­ingly, last year saw the USA re­place the UK in the over­all top spot in the Port­land Soft Power 30 In­dex (al­though, in point of fact, it did main­tain its se­cond place af­ter the USA in the cul­tural in­dex). It seems that the UK’S in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion is at risk just when it is needed most.

Next year is the Euro­pean Year of Cul­tural Her­itage (EYCH). With cul­ture, wis­dom and so many cre­ative skills un­der my pa­tron­age, what else can Athena do but en­cour­age every­one to cel­e­brate this. For Bri­tain, how­ever, the EYCH comes at a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant time. The UK will still be a full mem­ber of the EU in 2018 and an en­thu­si­as­tic take-up will send the mes­sage that co-op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion post-brexit can be re­plen­ished by cul­tural ties. As yet, how­ever, our own gov­ern­ment seems un­en­thu­si­as­tic about the op­por­tu­nity. The Depart­ment for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport has been cas­ti­gated by Par­lia­ment’s Euro­pean Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee as ‘luke­warm’ in re­al­is­ing the po­ten­tial of this event. Even worse, a Na­tional Co-or­di­na­tor for the Year has yet to be ap­pointed and, with less than 12 months to go, this needs to change.

By con­trast, it’s en­cour­ag­ing to hear of plans afoot from learned so­ci­eties, pro­fes­sional bod­ies and his­toric-build­ings groups to cel­e­brate the EYCH. Clearly, the her­itage move­ment is al­ready tak­ing the ini­tia­tive out­side the po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions. Hope­fully, sup­port for this event can go even deeper. Mil­lions of peo­ple who pro­fess to en­joy our Euro­pean her­itage, as res­i­dents or visi­tors, could each make a per­sonal pledge in my name to do some­thing ex­tra in 2018: to start up cul­tural ex­changes and col­lab­o­ra­tions that are pro­fes­sional, vol­un­tary, stu­dent or school-based or per­haps re­vive the town-twin­ning ini­tia­tive.

The aim is to il­lu­mi­nate both dif­fer­ences and com­mon­al­i­ties and, above all, to make new friends and col­leagues. Whether or not we are given a Na­tional Co-or­di­na­tor, let’s make 2018 work by pre­par­ing for it this year.

‘All is not well with the am­bi­tion of the White Pa­per, how­ever

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