Nguyen Thi Hien
Vice Director, Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Art Studies

Since its establishment in 2007 and continuous operation since 2010, the Center for Research and Promotion of the Cultural Heritage (CCH) has been evaluated by the Vietnam Association for Cultural Heritage as one of the best units with the biggest number of effective professional activities among those units belonging to the Association. The two leaders of the Center are two respected scientists in the field of cultural heritage—Dr. Le Thị Minh Ly, member of the National Committee of Cultural Heritage and former Vice Director of Department of Cultural Heritage; and Associate Professor, Doctor Nguyen Van Huy, former Director of Vietnam Ethnology Museum. The number of staff working at the Center is limited to twelve, but this is not fixed. The Center expands its capacity through a strong network and mechanisms for collaborating with partners who have been working in the field of cultural heritage and community, especially in the field of safeguarding policy.

The Center is often asked about its operations, human and financial resources, and any government support. The Center operates based on its professional capacity and network and relationships with the support of national and international grants and funds. Since its professional functions operate under the auspice of the Vietnam Association of Cultural Heritage, the Center can receive tasks and projects from government agencies, which are supported by the respective agencies and help to ensure the human resource for the Center and activity implementation.

The cultural heritage field is broad, so the Center focuses on two key areas—ICH safeguarding and heritage education through training, especially for young staff and relevant communities. The Center has received recognition for its project results in the ICH field. Some of these projects include the following:

  • inventorying and mapping the ICH of Ha Noi City
  • inventorying and mapping the ICH of Viet Tri City
  • compiling the 2015 report on the status of Phu Tho Xoan singing (inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, 2011)
  • developing the submission file to inscribe Phú Thọ Xoan on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (inscribed in 2017)
  • developing nine cultural heritage files for inscription on the List of National Intangible Cultural Heritage of Vietnam
  • carrying out six pilot projects to safeguard the ICH of Ha Noi
  • implementing a project for sustainable development in safeguarding and promoting the cultural value of the Giong Festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples (inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, 2010)
  • implementing three projects in developing and organizing community cultural heritage in Ha Noi
  • cooperating on three heritage education projects with museums, cultural centers, and schools

Among the mentioned work, projects on inventorying ICH have been the most difficult and time consuming, but not necessarily in a negative way. The inventorying work had the most participants involved, which allowed for a wider understanding about the importance of ICH, and it allowed us many opportunities to learn valuable lessons safeguarding ICH.

The first lesson involves smoothly applying both national and international laws on ICH. To complete the survey, we mainly relied on the 2003 Convention’s application guidelines, international law on cultural heritage, and brochure about inventorying ICH. However, in practice, these tools were not easy to apply to local cultural stakeholders and even more difficult for individual communities. However, it was necessary for them to fully understand the task with easier guiding materials that matched with their relevant level. In response, the CCH developed such inventory guidelines with ten lessons based on training at different levels. We also revised and tested the inventory templates based on the characteristics of ICH in Ha Noi and the current context of ICH safeguarding. During the three years implementing the project, we held dozens of training classes and seminars as well as meetings with the communities and collaborators. The various materials created for the project as well as the training and seminars made significant contributions to the ICH-identification methods we can use in the future.

The second lesson is related to promoting the role of communities in an environment conducive to collaboration. Unlike some inventory researchers/projects in Vietnam, CCH researchers operate under the principle of community members providing their ideas and thoughts about identifying their cultural heritage and trying their best to practice and safeguard this heritage. It takes a lot of time and effort to achieve the required inventory results. However, CCH and its collaborators respected and followed this principle strictly by closely listening to some of the communities’ concerns. For example, Vietnamese ICH has been practiced and developed in a special historical context that was interrupted during the 1946 to 1975 French Indochina war and the American war in Vietnam. Then during the 1986 Renovation, the process restoring culture inevitably caused changes to this cultural heritage. These issues and others like them were raised during the inventory process. After discussions, it was agreed that community members take on the role of identifying and safeguarding their ICH.

The third lesson concerns the relationship and establishment of a wide network of collaborators for the project implementation. CCH was successful in promoting the role of the cultural staff at different levels—city/provincial, district and commune levels—so that they could play the key role in the inventory process, from organizing training to instructing the community to identify cultural heritage, developing templates, going on field trips, interviewing, documenting, identifying the list of typical cultural heritage and cultural heritage in needs of urgent safeguarding, and the last step of mapping cultural heritage and publishing. In addition, CCH also had a way of using collaborators who were experts in history, culture, arts, filming and photography during the whole process of the implementation of the inventory process as well as in other projects. This is the way for CCH to develop professionally.

The fourth lesson involves mechanisms for developing human resources. Having identified the objective of safeguarding cultural heritage as a priority, CCH trained its core staff and collaborators. Ms. Bui Thi Huong Thuy, Vice Head of the Division of Cultural Heritage Management of the Ha Noi Department of Culture and Sports, an active partner in the project to inventory and map cultural heritage said: “Thanks to activities and awareness of cultural heritage that the Center has brought to us, we can do more useful things for the cultural heritage of Ha Noi.” Ms. Cao Thao Huong, now a lecturer of the Department of Culture Studies at Ha Noi University of Culture, worked at CCH as researcher after finishing her master’s course said: “Thanks to the Center that I had the opportunity to go on field trips and learn from researchers and the community. I had a chance to participate in the CPI (Cultural Partnership Initiative through the Korean Fund) and received much knowledge of heritage and culture in Asia-Pacific and have become more passionate in my job.” The Center has been pursuing training for young staff members to increase their awareness of cultural heritage, a new approach following the 2003 Convention, and creating in them the sense of responsibility towards cultural heritage and enthusiasm in safeguarding cultural heritage.

The fifth lesson is connected to fundraising. During the first two years of its establishment, CCH looked for grants from international organizations in Vietnam such as UNESCO and the US Embassy. These funds were to finance projects aimed at connecting cultural heritage, especially ICH, with schools, museums, and cultural heritage sites. Later, some museums and cultural heritage sites, including the world cultural heritage of Hoi An also followed. Then with experience and accredited expertise, CCH had more opportunities to participate in different cultural heritage projects, such as the project to inventory ICH of Ha Noi, which lasted three years and led to 1,793 elements being identified with full information on their status, practices, and transmission. In Ha Noi, 30 districts have developed their own lists and mapping in the overall system. Through this project, measures and plans for safeguarding Ha Noi ICH have been approved by the authorities and have been included into the action plan for the period ending in 2025. Every year, the Ha Noi Department of Culture and Sports develop their annual plan for safeguarding cultural heritage based on this database. They continue the tasks of developing files of cultural heritage to include them on the list of national cultural heritage per the community requirements, giving proposals regarding the Excellent Artisan and People’s Artisan program, and supporting heritage in need of urgent safeguarding. The most important purpose of this project is to enhance the value of cultural heritage and improve safeguarding measures for practitioners and the local cultural managers.

In these early days of 2018, the CCH is finalizing the Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Contemporary Life publication. The book will recognize and showcase the first results of CCH’s efforts in the field of cultural heritage in general and intangible cultural heritage in particular. The book is the result of support and cooperation with ICHCAP, a professional organization operating under the mandate of promoting ICH information and establishing networks for ICH safeguarding in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been a long-time cooperative institution with CCH for many years.