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2 minutes to read Posted on Monday August 20, 2018

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Aleksandra Strzelichowska

Aleksandra Strzelichowska

Senior Adviser Online Marketing & Events , Europeana Foundation

The youth movement in cultural heritage - lessons from Berlin’s Youth Summit

How to get young people interested in cultural heritage? How do you give them a voice? Moreover - how do you successfully run a summit on a European level? Aleksandra Strzelichowska poses these questions to Youth Summit: The Future is Heritage event coordinator Francisca Priem.

The team from Erfgoed Brabant at the Berlin Summit, Aleksandra Strzelichowska, 2018, CC BY-SA
The team from Erfgoed Brabant at the Berlin Summit
Aleksandra Strzelichowska

Getting young people interested in cultural heritage seems like a challenge - but after the major success of the Youth Summit: The Future is Heritage event at the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Berlin - there is clearly an interested and proactive group. 

The event itself brought together young cultural heritage professionals and students from across Europe. During the Summit, participants followed an interactive programme they shaped themselves and had a chance to exchange experiences, knowledge and views, and meet people working in the cultural heritage sector from across Europe. Francisca tells us about being apart of a regional organisation (Erfgoed Brabant) active on a European level, the story behind the Summit's success and about supporting young professionals in the cultural heritage sector.

What is Erfgoed Brabant, and what are its main activities?

We are an organisation at a regional level which assists museums and other cultural heritage organisations and we connect the cultural heritage sector and the Dutch province of North Brabant.

We do this in a few different ways:

  • applying for funds

  • organising activities

  • education (bringing schools and museums together)

  • providing advice to various people

You do a lot to support cultural heritage organisations. Do you also run projects by yourself?

We do run our own projects. The biggest at the moment is Brabant Cloud which is a technical support for smaller organisations to share their data. Most of these organisations can’t do this by themselves due to lack of funds or knowledge. By giving them access to this technical infrastructure, we can provide resources and skills to digitise and give access to their collections.

We also have a website. This showcases stories and also provides data from the smaller organisations. Together, you have the data, digital access and the stories. At the moment, around 100 organisations have their content in Brabant Cloud.

You are very active on a regional level. Why did you decide to organise a youth event on a European level?

We first developed a Youth Panel for young professionals in 2017. I have been their coordinator since September 2017. We have a meeting once a month to talk about being young in the heritage sector, something that can be quite difficult.

A few of my colleagues went to the 2017 Europa Nostra conference in Finland. The province of North-Brabant and Erfgoed Brabant itself have a membership and we wanted to present on a European level. However, my colleagues were quite shocked at the representation of young professionals, or rather, the lack thereof.

People deemed a young professional in this sector may be in their late 30s or early 40s. If you are younger than that, it can be difficult to be taken seriously, and there are big age gaps between colleagues. It can also be very difficult to get your foot in the door. In this sector, it’s normal for young people to start as a volunteer or do unpaid internships. However, this is problematic when this is still expected at 35.

We wanted to show that young professionals have a lot to offer even if it is different from their more experienced colleagues. This includes developing innovative ideas and contemporary best practice. Organisations need staff of all ages. We wanted to show that on a European level with the advantage of our Europa Nostra membership and platform. We knew we were ambitious - but in the end - it really worked.

What reactions have you received when you presented the idea of organising an event for young people?

We were glad that fellow project members, Provinces of Gelderland and Overijsel, think in the same way as we about young professionals. Our regional ministers were supportive of the idea and plans, which was great given that they provided the funding.

We had some very positive reactions from Europa Nostra, but we also had some difficulties. While we were able to run the programme, when we wanted to have a small presentation on stage, it turned out to be difficult to fit us into the larger programme (which had time constraints in terms of scheduling). So while the organisers of the European Policy Debate wanted to give us our moment, they also had priority, high-profile guests. We had a nice event, but there is still a long way to go.

It was great to hold the programme that we paid for ourselves; the next step will be to become a more integral part of the Summit. We’re not quite there yet.

What were the steps that you took from the idea to the actual event in Berlin?

Step 1: In December 2017, we brought together a group of young professionals from the three provinces we were working with. They created ideas, tested them and made decisions as to how the Summit would run. The idea to call for proposals also came from these focus group meetings.

Step 2: In February 2017, we started to work on the programme and got in touch with a few of the venues. We also contacted the British Council who became our event partner.

Step 3: In March 2017, we published a call for proposals which was open for a month. During the first three weeks it looked like there wouldn’t be that many sessions, but during the last week, the response exploded. In total, we had 25 presentations. People came from all over Europe.

We had around 60 participants from 16 countries covering different disciplines within cultural heritage.

Step 4: After we received all of the proposals, we made a choice to organise Skype calls to discuss each presentation personally. We thought at first that we would have, perhaps, ten presentations. But when we received so many great proposals, we decided to make the presentations shorter to accommodate more people.

We wanted to communicate that we were aware that people had put a lot of work into their presentations. We wanted to help them make the best of it. We also knew that in different countries, universities and organisations, that there are different ways of communicating and presenting, and this is sometimes very formal. We wanted to make sure each person understood this and to prepare their presentations accordingly. I received very positive feedback about this approach and I would try to do something similar again.

We had a lot of great presentations, a lot of diversity in themes and nice discussions. It was also the proof that statements like: ‘young people don’t care about cultural heritage’ are absolutely untrue. These sessions showed the complete opposite - people were so invested and put so much time into what they shared.

Young Professionals Summit was a great success. Do you have ideas or plans for the next steps?

We’d love to do something more and continue the work we started in Berlin - especially because of all of the positive feedback we received. Not necessarily another Summit - but I think it’s great to try something new and explore different ideas and opportunities. Format aside, the most important thing is that young people become an integral part of discussions and activities in the sector. Young people are already here, they are cultural heritage professionals with so much to offer.