Thinking about the future, but dealing with the past
Matevž Straus, urban sociologist and one of the key initiators behind the idea that asserted itself as one of the three winning projects of the EU Commission Social Innovation Competition in 2018, clarifies the importance of culture and heritage."Cultural heritage makes us what we are today. It is the basis of our identity. Yet in the emerging world of virtual, augmented and mixed reality, it might as well happen that our roots and our heritage will be left behind. We should thus make sure that cultural heritage lives on as part of the 21st century. Not as old artefacts in museum collections, but incorporated in new experiences, analog and digital."
Four main pillars construct HeritageLab blueprint: the extensive research of heritage possibilities in local environments, the mentor triangle, the pilot setting for quick testing of ideas and the community of members where everybody benefits. Since the heritage sector is quite closed and rigid, mostly focusing on conservation instead of innovation, there is often a lack of people with hybrid skill-set that merges contemporary business skills and a deep understanding of cultural heritage. With HeritageLab model, all parties could learn from each other and gain valuable knowledge.
"Idrija 2020 association worked on several projects regarding Idrija's cultural heritage in the past eight years," says Straus. "The EU Commission competition was the perfect incentive for us to structure our thoughts and ideas that emerged quite spontaneously, but proved to be successful through time," he continues. "The main theme of the 2018 competition was Re:Think Local, which fit perfectly with our previous work. Our group was selected among 720 contestants as one of the three winners, receiving €50,000 award. While there is no obligation for us to pursue the project, we decided we would like to see it alive and start to work on it right away."
The team partnered with Slovene company Arctur, innovative and user-friendly IT solutions provider and initiator of the Tourism 4.0. paradigm, with the goal of expanding HeritageLab's technological scope. Working on the research as well as product development, they are discovering ways to successfully implement technology in different aspects of the heritage sector. "Digitisation of cultural heritage has already started - but this is just the beginning of the possibilities digital solutions can offer. By combining cultural heritage, creative approaches and digital innovation, we can help society pass on cultural heritage to new generations. We call this Heritage+."
Idrija, an UNESCO World Heritage site, presents the perfect environment for the groundwork. Many projects were already executed. The traditional culinary festival, Idrija žlikrof Festival, was elevated with modern trends in culinary approaches, becoming a sustainable event, presenting several unique food choices and strict no-plastic waste approach. "Sustainability is quite popular in this age, but it actually derives from a well known traditional practice of efficient usage of all local resources people had in the past. This is what it's all about, making long-established practices running again."
Another activity the team is working on is an outline for a renovation of traditional mining houses, typical local buildings with a distinctive architectural design. Through thoughtful on-site transformations, they will try to prove the premise that historic architecture can not only be habitable but can achieve modern living standards as well.
Straus emphasizes the importance of such projects for tourism. "The cultural and natural heritage is the main distinction between individual destinations," he says. "Generic activities are the same everywhere one goes, while heritage is something that cannot be invented or transferred. Tourists search for local specificities, connections with local inhabitants, a local way of live, and there is also more and more interest in under-the-radar areas. Within Tourism 4.0. initiative at Arctur, we are researching a tourism ecosystem and developing collaborative and technological solutions that would tackle the issues of overtourism in some places and slow tourism development in others, and provide personalised tourist experiences that benefit the local communities."
Heritage Lab, a project developed within youth association Idrija 2020, focuses on cultural heritage development in smaller local environments. The triangular concept connects a youth group, a business mentor and a cultural heritage professional with the intention of revitalising long forgotten heritage treasures.