Handbook of Cultural and Heritage Management


3.2. Authenticity and “ownership”

Culture and Heritage are levers for local development in more than one ways:

Inwards: Appreciation of culture and local heritage by people creates a substratum of mutual understanding, sense of “ownership” and social coherence; education, collaboration and promotion of ideas are easier on such substratum than in societies hostile to their own cultural roots.

Outwards: Culture and Heritage are intrinsically linked to tourism, promotion of local products, protection of local resources towards external threats. As we will see below, well-embedded cultural values can lead to profitable synergies and sustainable development rather than exploitation of resources by external factors and investors, which will eventually lead local societies to alienation or economic  decay. 

Two notions are very important when we talk about heritage, culture and sustainability. The first is authenticity. The quest for authenticity transcends all heritage preservation projects, regarding both tangible and intangible heritage. It also affects aspects of local culture such as gastronomy, folk art, rituals etc., particularly when these are exposed to tourism. Contrary to what happened in previous decades, when heritage managers and tour operators interpreted the past through the eyes of the visitors, i.e. compromised veracity  in order to be compatible with visitors’ expectations, nowadays the trend is to build on authentic traces of the past, on authentic specimens of  a culture. This has a double effect: on the one hand visitors (who are now exposed to lots of information through technology and the general raise in educational standards) don’t feel deceived and on the other hand heritage itself remains as intact and uncompromised as possible. Building strong community ties based on local heritage and culture is the only secure way to preserve local identity and thus develop a region in a sustainable way, avoiding alienation.

Respect for authenticity leads to the second notion, namely that of the sense of “ownership”, experienced by the locals who feel that they are the legal heirs of their own tradition and heritage, those who have the right and the obligation to carry it forward, to maintain it and even to alter it but through a natural process of evolution and not in order to make it more “saleable”.

Authenticity: the Covered Market example


In order to better understand the notion of authenticity, think of a traditional covered market, so common in many countries. During a rehabilitation project, the premises are preserved and restored. However, in some cases after the restoration the leading authority/company decides to lease the shops to international brands or chain stores, whereas in other cases the shops maintain their local flavour, selling anything from foodstuff to handicrafts, tools, hardware etc. In the second case authenticity is preserved, in the first one not. The economic model adopted is completely different.