What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing artssocial practices, rituals, festive eventsknowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity. While fragile, it promotes respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

“Safeguarding” means measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage.

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 32nd session, held in the period September 29 – October 17 in Paris. The adoption of the Convention became a milestone in the evolution of international policies for promoting cultural diversity, since for the first time the international community had recognized the need to support the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.

Complementary to other international instruments dealing with cultural heritage, such as the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the main goal of this 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is to safeguard the living heritage that communities, groups and in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

Category 2 Centres active in the field of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in the world

Institutes and centres under the auspices of UNESCO (category 2) are funded and made available by Member States to support the programs and strategic objectives of UNESCO.
There are to date six centres devoted exclusively to intangible cultural heritage in the world, and a seventh, whose mandate also includes the World Heritage:

  1. Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-Eastern Europe, Sofia, Bulgaria
    Website: http://en.unesco-centerbg.org
  2. International Training Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia and the Pacific Region, Beijing, China (CRIHAP)
    Website: http://www1.chinaculture.org/info/index.html
  3. International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region, Seoul, Republic of Korea (ICHCAP)
    Website: http://www.ichcap.org/
  4. The International Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (IRCI), Sakai City, Osaka, Japan
    Website: http://www.irci.jp/
  5. The Regional Research Centre for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in West and Central Asia, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
  6. Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latin America (CRESPIAL), Cuzco, Peru
    Website: http://www.crespial.org/
  7. Regional Heritage Management Training Centre, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil