#Unite4Heritage reminds us that the most serious challenges to the common heritage of humankind have societal causes and that only a changed, heightened awareness of these societal causes will help us to find lasting solutions to this constant loss of cultural wealth.”
Dr. Markus Hilgert, Director of Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum (Museum of the Ancient Near East), talks about their support for the #Unite4Heritage movement, the role of museums and actions to raise public awareness of heritage protection.
Q. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation with its Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamonmuseum has actively embarked on #Unite4Heritage campaign, since its launch in 2015. What incited you to support this campaign?
A. From its very beginning, #Unite4Heritage was a very powerful global movement especially in the Middle East and North Africa region. When UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova launched the campaign in Baghdad on 28 March 2015, she sent out a strong message of international solidarity and support with countries like Iraq and Syria, which had just suffered cultural cleansing and terrible blows to its unique archaeological heritage at the hands of ISIL.
Once you have understood that the destruction of cultural heritage is a global phenomenon seriously affecting the social cohesion and cultural diversity, it becomes obvious that it is truly in our common interest to ‘unite for heritage’ and embark on a global strategy toward its sustainable protection for future generations.
Q. In your opinion, what role do museums play in in the protection of cultural heritage?
A. Museums are among the most visible and influential actors in the field of cultural heritage protection. They combine a highly specialized, often research-based cultural heritage expertise with their active role in society, the latter of which enabling them to raise pertinent awareness with their audiences, assist lawmakers in the improvement of cultural heritage policies, and publicly set ethical standards for the handling of cultural heritage.
Once you realize this and stop thinking of museums as mere repositories or showcases of art, material culture or biodiversity, the potential of museums as socially responsible expert institutions for cultural and natural heritagebecomes evident. I strongly believe that by embracing this idea, museums will make an important step toward the realization of this goal.
Q. While situated in Berlin, the Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamonmuseum displays archaeological objects from Ancient Mesopotamia and recounts rather distant stories, such as “Uruk: 5000 years of the megacity”, which can be unfamiliar to German and European audiences. In this case, how do you arouse and sustain public interest in the museum?
A. People come to the Pergamonmuseum because its display of monumental architecture from the Eastern Mediterranean, such as the Pergamon Altar or the Market Gate of Miletus , is unique. At the Pergamonmuseum, you can stroll along the Processional Way from Babylon and get an idea of what it must have felt like to live in this city 2700 years ago. The museum’s attractiveness derives from the fact that it lets you ‘experience’ antiquity like no other place in the world. I think there is one important lesson is, especially in times of advanced digital media use in museums: as long as you manage to provide experience that is unique and that can be felt physically, visitors will choose the museum over any digital surrogate and are bound to come back after their first visit. It is for the same reason that people still go to the opera and concerts, even though recordings are readily available in analog or digital formats today.
However, it is important to find a point of departure that today’s audiences can relate to when you tell stories about the past or geographically distant societies. With “Uruk: 5000 years of the megacity ”, our highly successful 2013 show, it was the idea of the megacity, of life in an ‘urban jungle’, that was picked up immediately by our visitors and eased their way into a world far removed from ours. In other cases, it may be useful to create a narrative that connects the objects displayed to their history of acquisition or to that of the institution.
Q. #Unite4Heritage treasures the participation of young people. What are your thoughts on youth’s engagement on this subject? What efforts have been made to involve and mobilize young audience at the Ancient Near East Museum at the Pergamonmuseum?
A. I believe that children should be brought into contact with culture and cultural heritage at a very early age. This also means that we have to strengthen our efforts to adapt the school curricula accordingly: cultural history and its material witnesses have to be an integrated part of the education and life-long learning.
It is crucial that we communicate with young people through the channels they use for their everyday communication. This is what we need to do to guide young generations through their very own discovery of the cultural heritage surrounding their daily lives. Here, there are always many programs and guided tours tailored specifically to young audiences . We are also in very close contact with different universities.
In addition, we are particularly proud of being partners in the “Multaka” Program inviting refugees from Iraq and Syria into various museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, as well as in a program for children called “Nebuchadnezzar Meets the Garden Goblin”, a very playful educational program initiated by the Carl Craemer primary school here in Berlin.
Finally, our recently established “Center for Digital Cultural Heritage in Museums” (ZEDIKUM ), a think tank and research laboratory in the area of 3D digitization of archaeological objects, gives us the opportunity to experiment with augmented reality and virtual reality environments in the context of an archaeological museum. I am convinced that being able to communicate effectively with young audiences on cultural heritage requires state-of-the-art of visualization and presentation of cultural heritage. Digital media increase our flexibility in targeting specific groups or even individuals. Therefore, being a digitally competent museum is a must today.
Q. Are there any upcoming events or activities in 2017, in relation to #Unite4Heritage?
A. There are two activities that we hope will help to further the overall goals of the campaign. First, in 2017 the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation will launch a special #Unite4Heritage awareness raising campaign in close cooperation with UNESCO. The aim of this campaign is to inform our visitors about the objectives of #Unite4Heritage and to make the connection between the archaeological objects displayed on Museum Island in Berlin and the immense cultural heritage of the states they come from.
Second, together with the “Heidelberg Center for Cultural Heritage” at Heidelberg University and several other leading universities around the globe we will launch the UNESCO UNITWIN network “Protection of Cultural Property Against Illicit Trafficking in the MENA Region” (ProCult). ProCult develops, carries out, and promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching on methods, measures, and instruments countering or preventing illicit trafficking in cultural objects Above all, ProCult will prepare the ground for a strong, sustainable cooperation between the academic world, civil society, local communities, research and policy making in countering illicit in particular from the MENA region.