In this essay, Andrew Ormston considers the roots and aims of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. He urges Scotland to play a fuller role in the year’s knowledge exchange activities and events.

“How many European ‘Years Of’ can you actually recall?” Well, reader, I struggled with  an answer.

I had a hazy recollection of the Year of Citizens (2013), and an even hazier one of the Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008, but that was it. My Brussels-based Italian interrogator smiled: “the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 is different”.

The most visible evidence of EYCH2018 is the events programme. The Year’s website currently lists 7,840 events in every European country, involving 1,120,000 participants. Some of the events are simply an enhancement of existing initiatives like Scotland’s ‘Doors Open Days’ or Scottish Archeology Month. Many others are new, like the Torch initiative, which kicked off in European Capital of Culture, Leeuwarden, in January and will end up in Paris in October, adopting an approach that will be familiar to those of us in touching distance of London 2012.

However, the Year is much more than its events, and the aim is to make a transformative and long lasting impact through establishing a clear direction of travel for cultural heritage policy and practice. To paraphrase Margherita Sani of the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO): “if the year succeeds in bringing cultural heritage into other policy areas like economic and sustainable development or people’s wellbeing and health…. 2019 might see a changed perception of cultural heritage… At least that should be our objective”.


This level of ambition is present at the highest level of the European Commission, with talk of a legacy that includes all of the EU 28 having a debate about culture and identity “that will never stop”. The Deputy Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture for the EU, Jens Nymand Christensen, is clear that one reason EYCH 2108 is happening is because the issue of identity is being recognised as increasingly important in Europe. Culture has a major role to play at a time when national identity can be used as a political football. He encapsulates this: “Who we are is defined, in part, through differences, or even contradictions, with our neighbours. Part of the rationale for EYCH2018 is to open peoples’ minds to respect for difference.” His view that cultural exchange has “led us to who we are today” is a strong rationale for the Year.

EYCH2108 is seen as a ‘launch pad’ for discussion, particularly through the eTwinning community for schools in Europe, which connects up over 500,000 teachers. But there is also an impressive array of conferences, and seminars scheduled, including the ‘Innovation and cultural heritage conference’ later this month. This is notable as it brings together the three Directorates of the EU responsible for: communications and technology; research and innovation; and culture.

“Who we are is defined, in part, through differences, or even contradictions, with our neighbours. Part of the rationale for EYCH2018 is to open peoples’ minds to respect for difference.”

EYCH2018 also figures prominently in the recent ramping up of EU social media activity. What impresses is the ease with which those speaking to their respective cameras can see EYCH2018 strengthening both their national cultural heritage, and their European connectivity and identity. As my interrogator put it: “we can forget that our identity is shaped by our memory and if we don’t look at this, it quickly becomes a selective memory.”

The Year is organised around themes. Involving young people is, arguably, the most important in the long term, and here EYCH2018 can make use of mechanisms like Erasmus + and UNESCO’s schools network. A focus on sustainability is of direct relevance to Scotland as it includes areas like adaptive re-use and cultural tourism. Following events in Palmyra, we are all aware of the need to protect cultural heritage. EYCH2018 intends to pave the way for tackling illicit importing, as well as the export of cultural artefacts using a mix of carrot (training and awareness raising) and stick (new legislation and direct action).


The question of how on earth the Commission and the European Parliament were persuaded to support EYCH 2108 is a good one given that they are dealing with so many pressing issues, from climate change, to migration, to the rise of populism. One key player in this whole exercise points to the preparations for EYCH2108 as a ‘collective intelligence at work’, as the reason why, in November 2014, the European Parliament agreed to the proposals for EYCH2018 in just ten minutes. Consider the words of Julia Pagel, Secretary General of the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO):

For the European Year of Cultural heritage, I think one of our key missions is to show the European dimension of heritage, to show that we share common values and goals and that cultural heritage can contribute to a healthy European society. We want to use EYCH as a chance and an opportunity for the sector to share our message outside of the already converted actors in the culture circle.”  

Image: Future for Religious Heritage.

It was heritage professionals, including some from the UK, that paved the way for EYCH2018. What happened between 2010 and 2018 is a classic exercise in ‘lining up the ducks’. As far back as 2010, an EU ‘reflection group’ was formed by professionals in response to on the one hand, the Council of Europe’s decision to remove culture from their list of priorities, and on the other its inclusion in the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon and the 2010 Bruges Declaration. In 2011 the European Heritage Alliance 3.3 was formed with a membership of over 40 of Europe’s most active networks in the field. A period of consultation and planning between civil society and national governments culminated in a 2014 international conference and policy, and the inclusion of cultural heritage in the EU’s top level framework, the European Agenda for Culture. EYCH2018 is the catalyst to bring these developments to life.


Will almost a decade of preparation have been worth it for cultural heritage professionals? Almost certainly. Those of us that are familiar with the EU approach will recognise how EYCH2018 will figure in a range of EU investment programmes, where some alignment with the Year will make your application that little bit more competitive. There is likely to be cultural heritage content in projects funded through ‘big money’ programmes like H2020, and Interreg. However, the EYCH2018 ambition also needed dedicated funding to show serious intent.

The EU set up a special EYCH2018 call within its Creative Europe programme with an emphasis on two priorities: cultural heritage as a way of supporting a sense of belonging to a ‘common European space’; and a focus on ‘contemporary creation’ and links with other creative sectors. This is not about monuments and historical artefacts; but much more about how we live and how we connect with cultural heritage. With the results of the call imminent, I won’t be alone in hoping that the successful projects include some Scottish partners.

This is not about monuments and historical artefacts; but much more about how we live and how we connect with cultural heritage. With the results of the call imminent, I won’t be alone in hoping that the successful projects include some Scottish partners.

In Scotland, we are knee-deep in the ‘Braw’ Year of Young People 2018. YOYP2018, not EYCH2018, permeates the events schedules and cultural calendars. Yet EYCH2018 is important. Scotland’s heritage assets and progressive cultural heritage policies have made an impact across Europe, and EYCH2018 provides a great platform for a deepening of this influence.

Many of our heritage institutions are European in outlook and work at their international connectivity. Scotland’s leading role in the development of inclusive approaches to intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in Europe may not hit the headlines, but it is internationally recognised. Similarly, the innovative work of ‘Museums Galleries Scotland’ in creating an inventory Wiki for ICH is being taken up elsewhere in Europe. (Who could resist an online resource that allows you to nominate the culture that is important to you as a national asset, and even better is called ‘From First Footing to Faeries’).


St Andrews Cathedral. Image: kolibri5 [CCO]

The outgoing Director of Museums Galleries Scotland, Joanne Orr, thinks that the benefits of European and international collaboration aren’t always appreciated. Professionals find it difficult to escape the ‘day job’, to find the time to connect internationally, but she is clear that international cooperation increases the resilience and sustainability of the sector.

The upcoming International Council of Museums conference is being hosted in Edinburgh. It has an appropriately Geddes-like title – ’Working Locally, Thinking Globally’ – and many of Scotland’s heritage network links and international projects will be in the mix. But if we expect Scotland’s cultural heritage professionals and academics to play a full role in EYCH2018, then they must be supported and encouraged to do so.

Celebrating Scotland’s culture and history as part of a wider European heritage informs how we think of ourselves in relation to the rest of the world.

The recent International Conference Urban Cultures, Superdiversity and Intangible Heritage was part of the EYCH2018 programme, and was themed in an area where Scottish professionals have plenty to talk about, but were absent from the speaker list. Another example is the conference and expert meeting that has just taken place in Palermo and focused on Museums, ICH and Participation – again, there were plenty of Northern and Western European presentations, but none from Scotland. The point here is a general one. The international visibility of Scotland’s heritage goes beyond the promotion of our visitor destinations. European collaboration supports the development and quality of Scotland’s cultural heritage and its management.

We are not far into 2018 and there is both the time and opportunity for Scotland to deepen links with EYCH2018. Looking for connections between the Years of Young People and Cultural Heritage is surely worth a look. Encouraging Scotland’s professionals and academics to play a full role in the year’s knowledge exchange activities and events is an easy cultural diplomacy ‘win’. Using the EYCH2018 platform to flag up Scottish heritage to an international audience is just good business. But, most importantly, celebrating Scotland’s culture and history as part of a wider European heritage informs how we think of ourselves in relation to the rest of the world.

Andrews Ormston is an international consultant and expert with extensive experience in strategic leadership, project development and review across the cultural and creative industries. Prior to this, he worked as director of culture for the municipalities of Birmingham, Reading and a Central London Borough. Andrew has also managed a number of venues, festivals and arts development projects. Active research interests include interdisciplinary projects, qualitative evaluation and research, international cultural policy, and creativity as a tool that empowers young people. Andrew is an Honorary Fellow of the School of Social and Political Science at Edinburgh University, a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, and a Board member of NN Contemporary Arts, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival and SURF: Scotland’s Regeneration Network.

Feature image: ‘Nothing like art to make you think’. Image: