Intangible Cultural Heritage support for Year of Stories 2022
Peter Hewitt is MGS’s new dedicated Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Officer. Here he explains what ICH is and outlines the support available to successful applicants to our Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund.
I am very excited to be joining Museums Galleries Scotland as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Officer for Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022! The second round of our Community Stories Fund is now open to support organisations and community groups to take part in the Year of Stories and celebrate the stories that matter to them. As ICH Officer, I will be working with successful applicants to help realise and document the ICH potential of their projects. We believe that ICH practice can connect organisations with new communities and visitors, and help safeguard and raise awareness of ICH across the country. Some Community Stories Fund supported projects may also be suitable to feature on our ICH Scotland wiki site – an inventory of living culture across Scotland. But what exactly is ICH and why is it important?
Intangible Cultural Heritage is ‘living heritage’ – the intergenerational practices and cultural expressions of communities. It encompasses everything from oral traditions to festival events, performing arts to traditional knowledge, beliefs and skills. I would argue that everyone has a personal relationship with ICH. Mine started in 2017 when I dunked an effigy of St. John the Baptist into a river as part of a Cornish Midsummer celebration outside Bocastle’s Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (where I worked at the time). The museum also hosted the Dark Gathering on All Hallows Eve when thousands of people enjoyed morris dancing, folk singing, eating ‘soul cake’ and being (playfully) threatened by skeletal horses (Mari Lwyds). All these traditions, social practices and customs – adapted from many different contexts and cultures – culminated in an intoxicating mix of excited celebration, community solidarity and diversity.
But most important of all, these gatherings were community led. The museum simply said ‘yes’ to a community group who wanted to dance outside, and it grew from there. As museum staff we sorted out council licences, arranged stewarding and organised tie-in events such as late-night openings and Candle-Lit Evenings. The Midsummer and Halloween events had an air of spontaneity and a buzz that can’t be easily described; these were events shaped and delivered by the community, drawing on their passions, rooted in the past but adapted to the 21st century. In the dark of the early morning after the Halloween event, the act of closing the museum felt strange; there were still people singing and talking outside and it felt like the division between museum and community had disappeared.
In addition to my new role at MGS, I’ve also worked as Museums Officer in Dumfries & Galloway since 2019 and I’ve seen so much ICH happening in communities across Scotland with support and participation from museums and galleries. At Auchindrain in Argyll, Gypsy/Traveller communities have drawn on their traditional skills and knowledge to help staff understand the museum’s artefacts; while Glasgow’s Our Shared Cultural Heritage project invited young Glaswegians to animate and film traditional South East Asian stories for new audiences, highlighting the histories of footballers, soap-selling holy men and sailors who settled in the city from the 1800s. The Food for Thought project recorded the cultural heritage of food in Scotland, including June Jamieson’s family recipe for clootie dumplings and Edinburgh resident Bimal Giri’s Nepalese dish, chole. Most museums have historic cooking equipment which could help draw out stories from your community – doing ICH might be easier than you might think!
I hope this blog has given you a sense of how ICH could be woven into your Community Stories Fund project. We aim to support successful applicants to the fund to showcase and record their local ICH traditions and practices by providing training, resources and advice. Over the coming months, we’ll develop the ICH information available on this website and add case studies to the ICH Scotland wiki site. In the meantime, please do contact me for further discussions at email@example.com.
Hero image: Up Helly Aa festivities in Shetland. Credit: VisitScotland / Luigi Di Pasquale.