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Using Education to Enhance Cultural Diversity and Exchange

Posted on Sep 24, 2019 by in issue #10 |

By Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá
Amineddoleh & Associates


Using Education to Enhance Cultural Diversity and Exchange


Why Culture, Why Now?

The European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) 2018 represents a turning point for the development of a common European heritage. EYCH also brought attention to the fact that in order to properly preserve culture, it is necessary to involve a wide variety of stakeholders, including women, minorities, youth, and senior citizens – all groups which have traditionally been excluded from mainstream decision-making. This is significant because:

Culture is in constant motion and is always linked to power relations. Cultural rights must be understood as also relating to who in the community holds the power to define its collective identity… It is imperative to ensure that all voices within a community, representing the interests, desires and perspectives of diverse groups, are heard without discrimination” (Shaheed, 2014, p.7).

Including these groups in decision-making processes for cultural heritage matters is essential for the creation of a truly representative and democratic society, improving quality of life, attracting investment and tourism as well as for generating jobs, tax revenue, and innovative services (Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe Consortium, 2015, pp.19-29).

As confidence in EU democratic procedures and participation declines, using cultural heritage to harness diversity and drive innovation ensures that citizens feel engaged and represented in their communities (Tims, 2015, pp.24-25). Prioritizing education should form a substantial part of cultural heritage management, particularly within a holistic approach and paying special attention to the marginalized aforementioned groups. Cultural rights are tied to other human rights, and exclusion from the former usually involves exclusion from the latter as well. By “vernacularizing” cultural rights through education – translating them into a more easily understood form (Shaheed, 2014, p. 8) – it is possible to legitimize cross-cultural dialogues and share unique perspectives, ultimately supporting a flourishing and diverse community. However, cultural heritage is not only a political imperative, but a social one too.

The ongoing processes of urbanization and mass migration have had major repercussions on modern conceptions of cultural heritage and diversity. It is estimated that the majority of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. As a result, cities are growing rapidly in size and creating global economic hubs, attracting unprecedented amounts of people with different values and traditions. This can cause tension between social groups affected by unsustainable development processes, which in turn, has led to a loss of public spaces and facilities, monotonous architectural developments, improper infrastructure, social isolation, poverty, deterioration of urban heritage, loss of identity, and scarcity of resources. While globalization can make cities more uniform regarding patterns of development, culture and heritage will always serve to distinguish them from one another and allow communities to steer their own future development by identifying areas of concern. Stimulating a sense of pride and belonging for inhabitants contributes to the formation of a new, more inclusive, and positive national identity (UNESCO, 2016, p.6 and Pinton, 2017, p.318). This is more necessary than ever in the face of increasing extremist and populist political movements. Combining cultural heritage transmission and education will serve to bridge the gap between desirable and antisocial behaviors.

Several international instruments address the role of cultural heritage as a pillar of human experience. The Hangzhou Declaration notes that “there is an urgent need for new approaches” (UNESCO, 2013, p.2) to address the problems springing from rapid urbanization and mass migration, which should fully acknowledge that culture is “part of the global and local commons as well as a wellspring of creativity and renewal” and crucial for inclusive development, environmental sustainability, peace, and security (UNESCO, 2013, p.2). The Faro Convention extends the definition of cultural heritage to include places around which people gather together[1] since people bring meaning and significance (values) to things that do not intrinsically possess such value. Heritage then becomes a living and dynamic component of human rights, particularly the right to live free of oppression (Pinton, 2017, pp.316-317).

The functions of culture as an overarching concept are double-sided. On the one hand, culture is an active enabler and driver of economic, social, and environmental development (“hard” dimension),. On the other hand, culture’s intrinsic value allows individuals to relate positively to each other and increase their quality of life (“soft” dimension). In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right for individuals to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, enjoy the arts, and share in scientific advancement and its benefits[2]. Heritage can be used within the educational context as a learning tool, to answer questions, and to enhance competences for social development, forming a “mutually beneficial relation” (Gesche-Koning, 2018, pp.17-18).

The Role of Education

Research demonstrates that education and culture together form key components of all learning processes and support sustainable development. Coordination between the two encourages the promotion of creativity, sensitivity, and positive relations between social groups (ibid, pp.7-8). The ultimate purpose of education is to provide people with opportunities to develop skills and mindsets that allow them to become responsible and active citizens. However, in the current rapid-changing world, educational systems must adapt and gain more flexibility so citizens can face competitive global market economies. Including cultural heritage matters can aid in this shift, as well as promoting communal awareness and a less self-centered mindset (ibid, p.9). Essentially, the goal is for citizens to learn how to know, to do, to live together, and to be – with new values, equality, social inclusion, and justice. Exercising creativity is particularly effective for the youth to collaborate and reflect critically on their place in the world, ensuring a better future (ibid, pp.10-11).

Regarding women, minorities, and senior citizens – all vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination – there are specific instruments protecting their cultural rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[3] recognizes the right of minorities to enjoy their own culture, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) grants everyone the right to access a State’s cultural life (Ferri, 2017, pp.422-425). This is particularly important in the context of migrants, since culture and education serve as a gateway to assimilation, allowing these individuals to negotiate their new reality without abandoning their prior identities. In the case of women, achieving gender equality and being included as actors of change in cultural heritage policy, rather than vulnerable subjects, are the main goals. Education is key for achieving true equality, while is also one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, especially when cultural heritage practices are cited as justification for women’s exclusion. The overlap between various forms of discrimination – age, gender, ethnicity, etc. – requires a systematic engagement in cultural negotiation and education (De Vido, 2017, pp. 453-454, 459-461). Finally, older people often experience heightened feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can be remedied through age-friendly and intergenerational cultural projects (AARP Livable Communities, 2015). Education can help them feel appreciated and create active bonds within their communities.

It is likewise important to consider the environment in which cultural heritage education will take place. For purposes of this article, the historic urban landscape, which is:

“[T]he result of a historic layering of cultural and natural values and attributes, extending beyond the notion of ‘historic centre’ or ‘ensemble’ to include the broader urban context and its geographical setting… It also includes social and cultural practices and values, economic processes and the intangible dimensions of heritage as related to diversity and identity” (UNESCO, 2016, p.11).

This type of landscape is expressed quite clearly in schools. These serve as centers where many kinds of groups interact on a daily and extended basis, as well as community engagement tools which “facilitate intercultural dialogue by learning from communities about their histories, traditions, values, needs and aspirations and by facilitating mediation and negotiation between conflicting interests and groups” (UNESCO, 2016, p.14). As such, they are an ideal forum for cultural heritage education. Perceptions of ordinary people, as opposed to experts, are just as important as establishing what is valuable in the cultural heritage context and how it will fit into daily lifestyles, which spurs sustainable development of local, regional, and national communities (Bajec, 2017, p.695).

Children can be easily exposed to cultural heritage matters through supplements to the academic curriculum, while adults can attend extracurricular activities hosted by the school, or even apply for continuing education programs. Some individuals have not been able to receive an education due to personal circumstances or cultural taboos. Therefore, urban schools should actively reach out and offer them specialized courses, so they can benefit from cultural heritage for development. Ideally, the participants will then take their knowledge home and disburse it to friends and family members, creating a chain to “empower a diverse cross-section of stakeholders to identify key values in their urban areas, develop visions, set goals, and agree on actions to safeguard their heritage and promote sustainable development” (UNESCO, 2016, p.14). Schools can also involve other institutions, including museums and other arts organizations, both public and private, to further the education on cultural heritage.

What Happens Next?

The cultural heritage education revolution should not only take place in schools, but in all kinds of institutions supporting human development. Educational institutions can form a base for disseminating the importance of culture as well as targeting a younger and more malleable audience, but the educational process itself should not be limited to this environment. Informal settings are also important for people to learn how to use culture, ultimately reconfiguring the ways they think, creating viable communities and narratives, and establishing meaningful relationships (Wisniewska, 2015, p.17). The concept of commons is particularly important here, as it describes “resources that belong equally to a community,” whether it is a local organization, a locality, or a state (Tims, 2015, p.20). For cultural heritage education, the focus is not so much on collective ownership in the legal sense, as it is on collective responsibility and management of available resources. If citizens feel like real stakeholders, they are more likely to contribute to community development. Marginalized groups must be given the opportunity to experience membership in the commons. Otherwise, states and communities will miss out on their valuable contributions. Certain states have already implemented more inclusive policies and are seeing positive results.

For instance, in the United Kingdom (UK), socially excluded groups are at the top of the government’s funding agenda within the cultural context. The arts have been officially recognized as pivotal for neighborhood renewal and a good return on public investment due to their impact on health, crime, employment and education. Social exclusion is seen as the root of many problems, particularly as regards community development. Beginning in the 1990s, the government implemented policies that use cultural heritage and education to improve citizens’ quality of life (Belfiore, 2002, p.91-96). Now, creative and cultural industries contribute over 100 billion pounds to the UK’s GDP (DCMS, 2018). This indicates that cultural heritage education strategies and participation can be successfully implemented and harnessed to obtain both social and economic results. Other European countries, such as Belgium, France, Poland, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations, have also invested in cultural heritage education through various national programs, providing examples of how this can be accomplished according to each country’s specific needs (Gesche-Koning, 2018, pp.19-21).

Forming partnerships and creating synergies between institutions and individuals from all social groups is the best way to take advantage of cultural heritage education. On a practical level, the Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies of the European Parliament recommends the following for optimal results: Incorporating heritage education in school curricula; Disseminating good practice examples; Sharing information; Encouraging training courses in heritage education; Ensuring that these programs receive adequate funding (Gesche-Koning, 2018, pp.31-35). Using technological resources is another way to make this type of education more interesting and effective, as it provides greater access and means of participation for students. An interdisciplinary approach and the presence of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in classrooms allow for an enriched and multi-perspective view of heritage artifacts in a digital form, the adoption of innovative teaching and learning methods, and a greater comprehension of the historical, geographical, social, and economic context concerning cultural heritage. Virtual reality reconstructions, situated lessons (fieldwork outside the school), collaborative experiences, and informal learning are all modalities of ICT with proven benefits (Ott & Pozzi, 2011, pp.2-6).

As all kinds of people become aware of the importance of cultural heritage and their right to join in the life of the community and policy formation and implementation, future laws and policies will become more diverse and inclusive at the local, regional, and national levels. These countries will then be able to adapt better to adversity, find more creative ways to solve problems, and use diversity to enrich their cultural heritage.

Questions for further discussion

What types of outreach programs can schools implement to provide members of the community (other than students) with cultural heritage education?

How can schools partner people from diverse groups for cultural exchange and education? Ex. Migrants and seniors, women and youths, etc.

How can technology be integrated with cultural heritage for learning in classrooms? Can these methods be used for other audiences?

How can schools implement more diverse and culturally inclusive policies for day-to-day learning and interaction? 


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BELFIORE, E. (2002) Art as a means of alleviating social exclusion: Does it really work? A critique of instrumental cultural policies and social impact studies in the UK. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 8 (1), 91-106.

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PINTON, S. (2017) The Faro Convention, the Legal European Environment and the Challenge of Commons in Cultural Heritage. In Pinton, S. and Zagato, L. (eds.) Cultural Heritage Scenarios 2015-2017 (pp.315-333). Venice, Italy: Edizioni Ca’Foscari.

SHAHEED, F. (2014) Foreword. In UNESCO, Gender Equality: Heritage and Creativity (pp. 7-8). Paris, France: UNESCO.

TIMS, C. (2015) A Rough Guide to the Commons: Who Likes It and Who Doesn’t. In Krytyka Polityczna and European Cultural Foundation, Build the City: Perspectives on Commons and Culture (pp. 19-31). Warsaw, Poland: ReadMe.

UNESCO (2013). The Hangzhou Declaration: Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development Policies. Retrieved from:

UNESCO (2016) The HUL Guidebook: Managing heritage in dynamic and constantly changing urban environments. A practical guide to UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape. WISNIEWSKA, A. (2015) Culture WITH People, Not Just FOR People! In Krytyka Polityczna and European Cultural Foundation, Build the City: Perspectives on Commons and Culture (pp. 14-18). Warsaw, Poland: ReadMe.

[1] See Art.2 of The Faro Convention at

[2] See Art.27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at

[3] See Art.27 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at


Claudia S. Quiñones Vilá is a licensed attorney in New York and Puerto Rico, with experience in civil international law and an interest in cultural heritage, sustainable development, urban law, and public policy. She currently works at Amineddoleh & Associates, a leading NYC legal firm dealing in art and cultural heritage disputes for high-profile clients, including the Cultural Ministry of Greece. In 2018, she completed an internship at UNIDROIT in Rome focusing on cultural property. In 2019, she received honors for her master’s thesis on cultural heritage legislation and policy in the EU as part of the EUPADRA MA/LLM program hosted by LUISS Guido Carli University (Rome), the Universidad Complutense (Madrid), and the University of London. She is also a member of The International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) Legal Group and a contributor to their blog, as well as the International Law Association (ILA) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP).