#4 Charleroi is a Belgian city with an industrial history shaped by the steel industry and the coal mines. Together with the challenges of a post-industrial transformation, new opportunities also arise. One of them concerns the conversion of industrial heritage and how it can be used to develop a new vision for Charleroi, maintaining its links with the past and enlightening a new future for its citizens. The intervention intended to protect the industrial heritage of Charleroi by repurposing these sites for a different sort of history, focusing on the creative and tourist sectors instead. Furthermore, the project was intended to show the dynamic and creative side of the city and give the visitors a new and unique experience. For this reason, Charleroi turned some of its industrial sites dating back to the 19th century into fascinating artistic stages. In particular, the forges in the former factories of La Providence have been reconverted into “Le Rockerill”, an urban centre dedicated to popular, social, alternative, and underground culture (music, graphic and digital art, theatre, industrial aperitifs, etc.). The initiative was started in 2005 by a collective of artists and friends. Later, it was supported and partially subsided by the regional organization Fédéracion Wallonie-Bruxelles and by the City of Charleroi. It started as an art collective, a small group of art passionates who needed a place to exhibit their art and organize small cultural events. Now, it has become a place for rock, techno, and pop, attracting people from all over Europe. Due to this intervention, an unused and disadvantaged part of Charleroi’s industrial heritage could be revived, supporting the transition of the region towards a new economic model. The economic impact supported most cultural industries and artists’ jobs and incomes. Tourist impact is also significant, as Rockerill attracts visitors from all over Europe. Moreover, the initiative allows for the preservation of industrial heritage that would otherwise disappear. It promotes a socio-cultural revival of a disadvantaged part of Charleroi and contributes to a new and dynamic image of the entire city. The Rockerill creation sets a useful example for several European cities that are going through a post-industrial transformation and want to experiment with new forms of socio-economic development in peripheral areas. The rich industrial heritage of these cities has a huge potential that can be enhanced by combining the historical meaning of this heritage with contemporary forms of artistic expression.
#3 Pernik, in central-western Bulgaria, is a post-industrial town facing issues of rapid depopulation due to unemployment and lack of opportunities. Despite not being a famous tourist destination, Pernik is well-known for the International Festival of Masquerade Games, the most important event in the region. It takes place every year on the last weekend of January. Nowadays, more than 100 groups from Bulgaria and other countries, with more than 6000 (up to 9000) masked performers take part in the Festival, while national and foreign media actively cover the events. Each edition attracts approximately 250,000-300,000 visitors. It lasts three days and its core attraction consists of the parade of masquerade groups along the roads of the city centre which, ultimately, culminates in the main square where the stage is set up. Today, the Festival can be considered an umbrella intervention, encompassing both cultural tourism interventions and interventions that, instead, mainly target the local community. For instance, during the month of January, museums, art galleries, and cultural community centres usually put on exhibitions related to the Surova tradition. Here, the local community has an essential and active role in the organization of the Festival-related events and takes action voluntarily to support the organization. Local businesses are also involved. Some of them are willing to make financial donations and give their support to strengthen the event and cooperate in its development. In addition, since 2015, the NGO “Local Heritage” has been working in the field of heritage conservation with the aim to support the Festival through communication and dissemination activities. For instance, in 2019, the same association organized workshops to make traditional Survakari masks and created an interactive website to present the masquerade tradition and the Survakari identity. Of course, the overall intervention had a huge impact on the territory. The arrival of approximately 300,000 visitors generates a positive economic impact and, at the same time, enhances socialization among people from different social, professional, and age groups, strengthening social cohesion. In particular, the Festival offers the opportunity to become more acquainted with the cultural specificities of different regions, contributing to intercultural dialogue. There might also be, to some extent, an impact on socio-demographic trends, due to the increasing number of foreigners settling down in the villages around Pernik, attracted by the Festival and the local cultural heritage. Finally, although the Festival has to improve its strategic vision to preserve the sustainability of the entire event, the constant passion, commitment, and resources invested by local administrative entities and cultural institutions have been decisive for the socio-economic benefits generated by the Festival. Their actions have certainly been inspired by the peculiar participatory approach that allows for a continuous flow of inputs from the local community.
#2 Lier is a small town located in a mainly rural region in north-eastern Belgium, in the province of Antwerp. Although it is characterized by a huge potential of historic and cultural heritage, Lier is too small to compete with the cultural centres nearby, or with other tourist players in the region. Moreover, many of the local cultural organizations active in the area have been working just locally, addressing the local community and remaining unknown to tourists from outside. The question raised at the start of this intervention was precisely what role Lier, as a small town, could play culturally. In this regard, the main objective of the intervention was to create a new museum for the town (merging the two that already existed) and, through a bottom-up approach, to select a more authentic characterization of the museum’s cultural offer. In 2015, the board of the (already existing) museums asked the citizens what, in their opinion, was typical of Lier. The survey received more than 1,000 replies. The important findings showed that what most characterized the town were the historic buildings, the atmosphere of the city, and it’s being quiet and green. For this reason, soon after such a great response, an open call selected 30 locals to form the new local community steering committee in order to process and fine-tune all the answers, lead recommendations, and act as museum ambassadors. The impact of the intervention was mostly socio-cultural and the best results concerned the achievement of a greater awareness of the local tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Locals recognized the change that occurred and, consequently, they became more responsible for the museum that they felt as theirs own and for the unique local culture it contained. The entire process has benefitted from the people’s involvement. The participation, engagement, and support of the local community have been crucial for the development of Lier’s tourism.
#1The first intervention will take place in the Historic Villages of Portugal in the region of Beira Interior. The area is facing several socio-economic challenges such as declining populations mainly due to a lack of opportunities for locals, especially the younger generations. At the same time, the richly diverse landscape and the quality of the wine-making tradition attract tourists both in winter and in summer, moved by their curiosity to admire a magical snowy or sunny landscape while sipping a glass of good wine. For this reason, tourism could be an important strategy to tackle the issues that have been undermining the area. The chosen intervention was designed by a conglomerate partnership composed of the Federal Government of Portugal, the local region, municipalities, and private agencies, all supported by the funding of the European Union. The initial basic aim was to restore ancient villages and promote heritage tourism in Beira Interior. Subsequently, the project was extended, embracing a more comprehensive strategy to generate more revenues and opportunities for residents through cultural tourism and mitigate depopulation. During the first stage of the project, the implementation followed a more top-down-directed approach which seriously lacked co-creation mechanisms to involve residents in the decision-making process. Consequently, a critical review of the intervention led to a more inclusive approach, recognizing locals as active partners of the initiative. The overall intervention achieved important objectives. First, the tangible heritage was successfully restored and preserved. The quality and diversity of investments in the renovation of historical buildings and revitalization of the villages have had a huge impact on the visibility and notoriety of historic villages and the entire Beira Interior region. Besides, the cultural promotion effect strongly increased the sense of belonging and pride in the community. Also, the contribution to socio-economic development improved living conditions and opportunities for residents. Since 2005, local tourist offices have recorded almost continuous growth in the number of annual tourists which, at the same time, created new jobs, especially in the sector of rural tourism, gastronomy, handcrafts, local products, and tourist entertainment. Although the initial top-down phase did not consider (enough) the needs, constraints, and specificities of the local community, a more inclusive decision-making process will make every intervention more effective.
Within the SmartCulTour Work Package 3, we proposed a taxonomy of cultural tourism interventions based on their ‘essential purpose’ (see here). One of the identified categories concerns interventions ‘to interpret understand and disseminate’. The urgency of interpreting and understanding cultural heritage clearly emerged from our data analysis, especially in association with contexts characterised by forgotten or neglected cultural heritage or heritage subject to contested or dissonant interpretations. Often, the presence of such dissonant heritage is determined by profound socio-economic and cultural changes a destination went through (e.g., the transition to a new socio-economic paradigm, conflicts, tragic events, socio-cultural or political tensions, etc.).
The analysis conducted within Work Package 3 included a large database of interventions and a selected number of case studies. Concerning this category of the taxonomy, the case studies focused on 3 specific interventions:
- The ‘crazy guides of Nowa Huta’: an entrepreneurial initiative to provide alternative tours in Nowa Huta, a district of Krakow (Poland) created during the Soviet Union as utopian socialist ideal city, a unique example of architecture and urban planning of that period. Disagreements among locals in the interpretation of this heritage determined a fracture in the society, between the part willing to silence the socialist heritage and the part willing to understand it better. The crazy guides of Nowa Huta approached the interpretation of this heritage with forms of ‘edutainment’ (combing education and entertainment), supported by appropriate storytelling skills and narrative techniques. They were able to provide a less divisive interpretation that contributed to healing fractures existing in the local community.
- Migrantour: now active in several European cities, the Migrantour network organises ‘Intercultural walks’ through neighbourhoods shaped and influenced by migrations. The walks are facilitated by ‘intercultural companions’, locals with a migration background. Migrantours provide new perspectives and interpretations of the historical and contemporary meanings of migrations for European cities, helping to understand how migrations and migrants contributed to their evolution.
- Pakruojis Synagogue: Pakruojis is a small town in the north of Lithuania, where the Jews settled in 1710, contributing to the local economy and social life of the town. Due to the tragic events of the past century, nowadays there is no Jewish community in the village anymore, making it difficult to maintain their cultural heritage and ensure its appropriate interpretation. The renovation of the old Pakruojis synagogue included the realisation of an exhibition about Pakruojis’ Jewish culture and history and the creation of a cultural centre available for the local community. Therefore, the Synagogue not only became an element of attraction for cultural tourists, but also a place of education, aggregation and cultural encounter.
The above-mentioned examples show that the ‘reason why’ of this type of intervention often relies on the usage of cultural tourism as a viable instrument to promote interpretations of forgotten/neglected heritage or heritage subject to unclear or dissonant interpretations. Our analysis revealed how the ability to listen to people, embracing an open-minded and bottom-up approach, together with communication and storytelling skills are often crucial resources to effectively implement such interventions. Besides the necessary financial means, also the support of scientific and academic knowledge (e.g., historians, sociologists or anthropologists) is often very important. These interventions generally lead to substantial positive impacts from a social (e.g., social cohesion, social inclusion of minorities, sense of community) and cultural (awareness & knowledge of cultural heritage, intercultural understanding, reconciliation of dissonant heritage interpretations) point of view. Furthermore, a moderate positive economic impact was also observed (jobs, incomes and business opportunities), although sometimes limited to a reduced number of (local) individuals or businesses. Several success factors also became evident from the analysis, namely the availability of financial resources, the ability to listen and let territories/people express and narrate themselves and the capacity to implement engaging forms of communication (for instance, through storytelling).