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An uplifting seminar in Palermo about the social dimension of Cultural heritage

I had the pleasure of taking part in the TCA Seminar titled ‘'Paths towards Citizenship through European Cultural Heritage' in Palermo from 26th to 29th September 2018.  A wide range of speakers and topics and participants, all from a different angle, offered a most interesting overview of how cultural heritage shapes lives, cultures and societies in ways we aren’t even aware of.What struck me from the start, was the lengths to which the organisers had gone to make the themes of cultural heritage and citizenship palpable, by holding the seminar in 2 venues of extraordinary beauty (Palazzo Comitimi and Politeama theatre) in the city of Palermo, which was a fitting setting for reasons that I’ll explain at the end of this article.A theme that came back throughout the conference was bringing people together and helping them discover the power of cooperation, all with cultural heritage as a setting or as an engine.  All six speakers that I will briefly discuss somehow had their ropes tied to this central idea.  Amidst the wide range of panelists, the following stuck with me just a little more and left an impression on me that went beyond my professional interest.Daniele Campagnoli presented the Via Marsala project in Bologna, in which students make a ‘sentimental map of the city', by trying to get to know everything about the Via Marsala, a historically important street in the city centre.  Their quest includes stories about ordinary people’s lives now and in the past, thus accentuating that history is always in the making.  I was most charmed by how this project brings past and present together in an active and creative way.Lucia Di Cecca presented the GLOMUS project, in which musicians from all over the world came together for one week to play music.  The result went well beyond the strictly musical outcomes and the project succeeded in creating a feeling of love and brotherhood.  ‘They will never fight against each other’ was the last line of her speech.  Her story about the project left a deep impression on me because it reminded me of how interpersonal contact and making time for one another can change the way people look at each other.  A message that is deemed soft these days but that is in fact incredibly powerful.Marco Leone is a young man from Livorno in Italy who was unemployed for the largest part of his twenties.  Like many Italian young men, he didn’t get the chance to start up his life because unemployment has hit Italy very hard in the past decades.  When he found a job at a museum in Livorno and got involved in a European project, he got the chance to do something for young people that were in the situation he had been in. The Hetya Project aims to give young ‘Neets’ (the name for these young people that have been unemployed for a long time) a meaningful task in a project that they help take shape, thus building their confidence and skills and heightening their future chances on the job market.   My fellow countryman Guy Tilkin was the keynote speaker of the conference and pointed out how European citizenship is a construct that was an alternative to the destructive nationalism that people wanted to get rid of after World War II.  He sketched how it grew and what it meant and means and how it has been under pressure in the last decades.  His final stance was that cultural heritage plays a defining role in how we build our identities and that it can and should also play that role in preserving the European idea.Viola Bertini, a young architect currently working in Venice, was a very important asset to the conference, because she was the only speaker who pointed out that tourism (a phenomenon that throughout the conference was almost self-evidently considered to be bringing prosperity) can also have a destructive impact if it isn’t managed well.  She spoke on behalf of the DHTL Network, a network of architecture schools that defines its goal as helping to establish the balance between sustainable tourism, inclusive tourism and cultural heritage. And finally, the young and driven Dario Zanardi from the World Bank showed us some examples of how cultural heritage can give cities that have gone through hard times in conflicts a renewed vitality and identity.  A project he attained great results with is Butterfly, in which children from different communities in Lebanon worked together on art projects, thus learning about each other’s cultures and backgrounds and teasing the tensions across different communities for future generations.All these speakers had the chance to present their ideas and views in Palermo, a city in which the link between cultural heritage and citizenship has been made very concrete in recent years by a mayor who wants to exploit the touristic potential of this historical city whilst trying to diminish the power of organized crime ànd who makes migrants part of the community to an extent that in many European cities would be deemed provocative.  This blend of heritage and citizenship provided an overwhelming and fitting setting for this uplifting and inspiring conference. An overview of speakers and participants and links to their projects can be found on

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