Healing the Wounds from COVID-19 with World Heritage: Your Expertise Needed

A Message from US/ICOMOS President Douglas C. Comer, PH.D.

We are reminded each day that we are in the midst of not just a health, but an economic crisis. Yet there are also social wounds that we must acknowledge and deal with if we are to heal nationally and globally. This is a time when World Heritage, both tangible and intangible, becomes more important than ever. World Heritage binds us together. It provides us with the perspective that we will need by offering lessons from the past. It generates in each of us and collectively awe and wonder, what one of the founders of the social sciences, Émile Durkheim, a century ago termed the sentiment that forms a shared identity. Chaco Canyon or one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent architectural landscapes inspire everyone, no matter what their politics might be.

Heritage in general is also an enormous driver of the economy. Tourism has long been the leading or second largest industry all over the world. While we can’t be sure when people in any great numbers will be willing to fly to distant places, there is a good chance that many would be willing to visit World Heritage Sites closer to home as social distancing eases and sites develop visitation protocols that are appropriate to evolving public heath conditions.

Before it becomes safe to visit sites in person, knowing that this might be a year or more from now, and that even then numbers of visitors might remain low, we have work to do. Over the next months, US/ICOMOS and ICOMOS as a whole will be exploring the means by which to convey the value of World Heritage to a public that is understandably focused on the immediate concerns of obtaining adequate food and shelter.

Now is the time to demonstrate how World Heritage has brought benefit to the United States, socially and economically at home, and how it has built bridges to the other nations of the world. A concerted response by all nations, even those that quarrel, is going to be necessary to deal successfully with the pandemic and other global crises that will undoubtedly develop in future years.

We have many examples to draw from, and here we ask for your assistance in taking the opportunity to tell the stories of these sites using digital technology. We have stunning images to broadcast, but as importantly, we have US/ICOMOS members who can speak about each of our World Heritage Sites. In presenting a site, it is axiomatic that nothing is more effective than people talking to people. In the past this has been done face-to-face, now we must develop engaging ways to do this using technology.

Time is of the essence. To make our case, to engage and increase the membership of US/ICOMOS so that we can do this, I ask for those who can assist to step forward. Two types of assistance are very clearly needed:

  • Representatives and advocates for specific World Heritage Sites in the U.S. who have video material such as virtual tours and are willing to enhance this with a personal narration, to talk about how the concept of Outstanding Universal Value applies to the site, the stories of the people who are associated with it, and to recap the preservation challenges presented by the pandemic and possible mitigations. 
  • Those who have expertise to increase the production value of video presentations. You are there, can we ask for your advice and counsel?

Those of you who would be interested in working in this way are invited and encouraged to contact the US/ICOMOS Board of Trustees. You can do this simply by emailing me at president@usicomos.org.

US/ICOMOS has been through a painful time as we restructure, but restructure we must. More broadly, we are living in a time when every one of us has been wounded by a social isolation that is not natural to our species, as necessary as it must be for a time. There has been dissension and finger-pointing. What can knit us together? What can heal the wounds that our local, national, and global societies have suffered? We as members of the US/ICOMOS family have one means of helping at our disposal. Please, let us use it.


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