Recognizing Our Cultural Heritage

An American and Flemish Dialogue


April 7 - 26, 2010, UNESCO Headquarters, Salle des pas perdus, Paris, France

Organized by:
Documentary Arts, Inc., FARO, and Intangible Cultural Heritage Section

Addresses by:
Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO
David Killion Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the United States of America to UNESCO
Nic Vandermarliere Representative of the Flemish Government to France
Alan Govenar Documentary Arts, Inc. and Marc Jacobs FARO

Performances by:
Michael Doucet Cajun singer/songwriter and recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship and the Flemish music group Klakkebusse.


This exhibition took place at the UNESCO Headquarters, located at:
Salle des pas perdus
7, place de Fontenoy
Paris 75007

2010, the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures celebrates the equal dignity of all cultures and seeks to promote mutual respect and cooperation for lasting peace through dialogue. Central to UNESCO’s mission to foster cultural diversity, the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage promotes, through international cooperation, "reciprocal knowledge of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity", one of the four themes of the International Year. The act of recognition is a fundamental cultural process that determines whether communities, groups or individuals embrace expressions, practices and representations as elements of their intangible cultural heritage. The exhibition Recognizing Our Cultural Heritage: An American and Flemish Dialogue explores the various facets of that act of recognition.

This exhibition is an outgrowth of the long-term engagement of Alan Govenar and Documentary Arts with the National Heritage Fellowship program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the United States of America. Through that program, which is based on the Japanese concept of 'Living National Treasures', the NEA each year honors a number of American folk artists selected for their contributions to the nation’s vast cultural mosaic. When FARO: the Flemish Interface for Cultural Heritage in Belgium learned of the NEA program, thanks largely to Govenar’s systematic documentary research, a fruitful transatlantic dialogue began. Like the rest of the world, Flanders today faces two major challenges with regard to its living heritage: implementing an appropriate policy and practice for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in the 21st century and cultivating visibility, awareness, dialogue, diversity and sustainable development. Alongside new international developments yielded by the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, interesting older programs are being re-discovered, examined, combined and appropriated as potential sources of inspiration, reflection and development.

Recognizing Our Cultural Heritage: An American and Flemish Dialogue features photographs by Alan Govenar depicting some of the over 350 National Heritage Fellows recognized by the NEA since 1982 as well as individual bearers of intangible cultural heritage from Flanders identified through informal discussions and practices. Viewing these people from both sides of the Atlantic together in a single exhibition, we are invited not only to reconsider preconceptions about cultural identities, but also to reflect on continuity, transfers, exchanges, and transmissions in the living heritage of communities, groups and individuals. This exhibition results from, and gives new impetus to, efforts to stimulate broader reflection and discussion in Flanders and the USA on the implications, significance and power of research, documentation and other aspects of safeguarding, cultural brokerage, recognition, appropriation, and negotiation in the 21st century.

Recognizing Our Cultural Heritage: An American and Flemish Dialogue is presented in cooperation with the Section of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO with support from Documentary Arts, FARO, the Flemish Community, the Florence Gould Foundation, and Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more about FARO, visit their website.