Need

ICH’s creations are transmitted orally or by gestures and are modified over a period of time through a process of collective recreation. To this end, there is always a risk that certain elements of ICH could die out or disappear if they are not treasured. The issue of the preservation of intangible cultural heritage came to light as the effects of globalization caused the diminishment of the unique culture of many communities. As the world becomes more interconnected, many different cultures come into contact and communities start losing important elements of their ICH, while the new generation finds it more and more difficult to maintain the connection with the cultural heritage treasured by their elders. This transmission of knowledge has both economical and social value since it goes further and far beyond cultural fragments and attitudes. This kind of culture is called Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

ICH 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, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. ICH is at the same time traditional, contemporary and living, because it does not only refer to inherited knowledge but also to contemporary, rural or urban, cultural expressions. In other words, it refers to the past, to the present, and, certainly to the future. It is the "mainspring of humanity's cultural diversity" and its maintenance is a guarantee for continuing creativity. For this reason, UNESCO introduced the term "Living Human Treasures" (LHT) for persons who possess to a high degree the knowledge and skills required for performing or re-creating specific elements of the intangible cultural heritage.

For example, a Corsican singing tradition, namely the "cantu in paghjella", has been listed by UNESCO as one of ICH treasures in need of urgent safeguarding. Paghjella makes substantial use of echo and is sung a capella in a variety of languages including Corsican, Sardinian, Latin and Greek. Despite the efforts of its practitioners to revitalize its repertoires, paghjella has gradually diminished in vitality due to a sharp decline in intergenerational transmission caused by the emigration of the younger generation and the consequent impoverishment of its repertoire. A similar case is the "canto a tenore" in Sardinia, which was inscribed by UNESCO in 2008 on the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Another example is the byzantine music, which is the music of the Byzantine Empire composed to Greek texts as ceremonial, festival, or church music. Research done in this field has proved that byzantine music has its roots in ancient Greek music and although it has not been listed by UNESCO as an endangered ICH, there is a risk that certain interpretation styles of Byzantine Hymns could die out if no action is taken.

There are numerous examples of living ICH expressions both at European and international level, such as the art of pottery, which has played a significant role in many societies since ancient times; local traditional dances, e.g. the Romanian Căluş ritual dance, which also formed part of the cultural heritage of the Vlachs of Bulgaria and Serbia (inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) or the Mongolian folk dance Biyelgee, which is typical in remote areas of western Mongolia and has been inscribed by UNESCO in the list of ICH in need of urgent safeguarding; and so many other intangible treasures, which have either been listed by UNESCO or recognized by local communities and groups as part of their living tradition and heritage.

In recent years, ICH has received international recognition and its safeguarding has become one of the priorities of international cooperation thanks to UNESCO's leading role. The Convention of the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO (2003) sets the intangible cultural sources as a basic factor for the local cultural identity and constitutes an eternal guaranty for sustainable development. ICH is manifested inter alia in the following domains: (a) oral traditions and expressions, (b) performing arts, (c) social practices, rituals and festive events, (d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and (e) traditional handicrafts. Within this framework, many museums have already started exploring new ways for safeguarding ICH.

Museums can play the role of a mediator or communication bridge to fill the gaps between generations and to share the community knowledge on a larger scale with different communities and a diverse range of visitors. However, there are specific limitations in their role: a) usually the physical presence (especially in the case of small local museums) of visitors is required, b) in many cases, national museums focus on the presentation of the local ICH, c) museums usually collect, preserve and interpret material evidences associated with the past, while ICH is not simply about the past, but also about the present or even the future and can be used as the base for new cultural expressions, d) the presentation and interpretation in museums is static, while the elements of ICH are living.

Moreover, ICH is more efficiently preserved "with" the people or community by protecting the processes that allow traditions and shared knowledge, while museums are usually limited to presenting ICH treasures. For this reason, modern ICT technologies can be employed to improve the presentation of ICH, raise public awareness, provide seamless and universal access to cultural resources, support services for research and education and bring hidden intangible treasures to light. Especially the latter constitutes the most challenging issue in the safeguarding of ICH and can a) give rise to a deeper understanding of this kind of cultural heritage, b) unveil unknown correlations between ICH treasures associated with societies from different time periods or geographical areas, c) create new ways for cultural expression that connect the past and have relevance in the contemporary world and d) break new ground in education, knowledge transfer and research of ICH.