Intangible & Tangible Cultural Heritage

How can intangible and tangible cultural heritage be safeguarded in combination?

Research has been conducted into the interdependence of tangible and intangible heritage. How to safeguard tangible and intangible heritage in combination?

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Design Ontwerphaven

What challenges were addressed?

Many forms of intangible heritage are closely linked to tangible heritage, objects, buildings or places. Think of rituals that require certain objects, crafts that are performed in a monument, intangible heritage that requires a certain instrument and processions that take place in a historic city center. Intangible and tangible heritage often cannot be separated from each other. How can one ensure cohesion, taking into account both the intangible and tangible heritage?

For a long time, museums focused mainly on collecting and exhibiting objects. Meanwhile, the focus is also on stories, emotions and interactivity. How can museums, in close collaboration with heritage communities, contribute to raising awareness and safeguarding intangible heritage?

And what opportunities does the ‘Omgevingswet’, which will come into effect in 2022, offer to support the intangible heritage that is linked to the physical living environment at the municipal level?

What activities and research has theCenter undertaken?

The research that focused on museums and intangible heritage was conducted in the context of the international Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums Project (IMP) (2017-2020) in which the Dutch Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage was a partner. During five international conferences, around 80 museums and 20 intangible heritage communities (from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland) presented their experiences, opportunities and challenges of collaboration. Based on these presentations, an extensive inventory of cases and best practices could be made, which ultimately led to a variety of tools. While IMP mainly provided insight into temporary collaborative projects of intangible heritage communities and museums, during the conference Immaterieel Erfgoed Verzamelen (Collecting Intangible Cultural Heritage) (October 2019) we investigated how museums and other cultural institutions, such as archives and libraries, can integrate intangible heritage into their collection policy and thus anchor it more sustainably in their programming.

Furthermore, we investigated how heritage communities and municipalities work together in order to safeguard intangible heritage related to specific spaces and places. The focus was on both the opportunities and the challenges in the safeguarding.

While some heritage communities and their museum or municipal partners are already very experienced in collaboration, others still need tools for support. Different concepts and approaches are used within the various heritage sectors. Even what is meant by heritage differs. Therefore, good communication is of great importance.

Which new insights are yielded?
  • The collaboration of intangible heritage communities with museums can contribute significantly to the safeguarding of intangible heritage, both in terms of increasing its visibility as well as finding new practitioners and innovating the heritage. Collaboration can also stimulate dialogue about the intangible cultural heritage.
  • Museums benefit from the collaboration with intangible heritage communities. Many museums are looking for a new role in society: how can they enhance their relevance and address current issues such as diversity, sustainability and social cohesion? By working together with intangible heritage communities and dealing with intangible heritage at the heart of society, museums can shape and strengthen their new role.
  • For museums, collaboration can be relevant to dynamize their historical collections and to add a contemporary context to the collections. Collaboration with intangible heritage communities can contribute to the decolonization of collections and make museums more democratic.
  • Our insights also concern the way of collaboration, which is ideally equivalent and determined by a constant dialogue about the relevant intangible heritage, the mutual goals and the degree of participation.
  • Intangible heritage that is linked to specific places, such as the miller's craft, a corso that requires a specific construction site and a route, or the hedge weaving that takes place in a particular landscape, can be supported by inclusion in the environmental plan and / or the environmental vision that municipalities must create under the ‘Omgevingswet’.
  • Intangible heritage stands for an active practice of cultural heritage in the municipality and therefore offers openings for the active involvement of the citizens. A participatory heritage approach is an important pillar in the ‘Omgevingswet’.
  • In order to anchor intangible heritage in the instruments of the ‘Omgevingswet’, it is necessary to make a thorough inventory of the intangible heritage in the municipality and the specific challenges, wishes and needs connected to the heritage. It helps to literally map intangible heritage.
Concrete products

Extensive toolkit Intangible Cultural Heritage & Museums . With various tools, including:

  • guidebook Museums and Intangible Cultural Heritage. Towards a third space in the heritage sector. A companion to discover transformative heritage practices for the 21st century,
  • brainstorm tools,
  • video testimonials from intangible heritage practitioners and museums,
  • IMP-Declarationin which the insights and expectations about safeguarding the intangible heritage of communities, groups and individuals together with museums are expressed.
  • Workshop Intangible Heritage & Museums. The workshop stimulates discussion about inspiring examples and reflection on the possibilities of integrating intangible heritage into museum work.
  1. Explanation Workshop 'Intangible Heritage & Museums'
  2. Presentation Workshop 'Intangible Heritage & Museums'
  3. Inspiration cards Workshop 'Intangible Heritage & Museums'
  • Publication Museumpeil“Immaterieel erfgoed en musea”
  • Inspiration book and extensive report of the conference ‘Immaterieel Erfgoed Verzamelen’ (Collecting Intangible Heritage)
  • Chapter 'Samenwerken met musea’ (Collaborating with museums) in publication Houd je immaterieel erfgoed springlevend (Keep your intangible heritage alive!)This chapter focuses explicitly on heritage communities.
  • Brochure Ruimte voor immaterieel erfgoed. (Room for intangible cultural heritage. How do you integrate intangible heritage into municipal environmental policy?). The ’Omgevingswet’ expects municipalities to take into account all forms of cultural heritage in their environmental vision and environmental plan, and thus also intangible heritage insofar as it is related to a specific place. This brochure provides information about why and how municipalities can integrate intangible heritage into their environmental policy.
  • Box ‘Hoe past jouw immaterieel erfgoed in de Omgevingswet?’ (How does your intangible heritage fit into the ‘Omgevingswet’?) in the publication Houd je immaterieel erfgoed springlevend(Keep your intangible heritage alive! Tips and ideas for successful collaboration: with whom and how?) This chapter focuses explicitly on heritage communities.
  • In-depth article 'Past and Future Presencing in Museums. Four cases of engaging with intangible heritage from the Netherlands', in: Special Issue of Volkskunde122 (2020): Transforming, Not Saving: Intangible Cultural Heritage, Museums and / or the World.

Network partners

The most important partners are the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands in the field of tangible cultural heritage and the Intangible Heritage Workshop (BE) in the field of intangible heritage.

Contact person: Sophie Elpers,


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