New profile on the Young Cultural Heritage Professionals series:
What was your motivation to enter the cultural heritage field? Was it your first option?
I come from a political background, and I have always been fascinated about the political implications of heritage. It all started in 2016 when Irina Bokova said (about Palmyra), that “[heritage] is not just about bricks and stones, it’s really about an important message, the way we see human civilization moving and developing”.
Understanding heritage as a soft-power mechanism, and seeing its impact in sustainable development, peacebuilding and reconciliation processes, or national identity building, among other things, has always been a key aspect for highlighting the crucial role heritage plays in society. Heritage is both a wall and a bridge; an excuse for polarization and divergences, or a tool for cooperation and progress. It all depends on what we make out of it.
How was/is your transition from studying to working?
I was lucky I could start working for a professor in her cultural consultancy even before graduating, but I know looking for jobs in heritage is quite hard. What I always ask myself is: how can I include a heritage perspective into what I’m doing? even if it’s not directly related to the field. And when I’ve had corporate jobs, I have enrolled in voluntary programmes, lectures or other educational activities to keep myself connected to heritage (via ICOMOS, for example). Even when I shift away from heritage because of different reasons, I always try to find a connection that keeps my mind on the field.
How are you looking/looked for a job in heritage? And how do you experience/experienced the phase of search and application?
Networking is key in the heritage field. Although there are a lot of jobs in the market, they are usually never advertised in traditional job portals. LinkedIn and Twitter are great tools to build such network and staying connected to different events, professionals and educational activities.
Beginnings are always hard for emerging professionals, and even more considering how un(der)paid the heritage field is in most cases. If I could give a tip: join panels, conferences and courses (even if it’s via zoom and you’re watching it while doing other things) so you can get to know what’s happening within the field, and which doors you might want to knock in the future.
What skills and competences do you notice are demanded the most in job offers?
Sadly: experience. Or at least that’s what job offers ask for. It is very hard for us young professionals to make a place for ourselves, sometimes doomed to enroll in unpaid internships to gain some professional experience – in case we have the privilege of being able to afford them. However, I believe the most valuable competence for me has been project management, and being able to put together proposal for funding.
There are many organizations willing to fund heritage projects, and drafting a kick-ass project is essential. If nobody will hire you because you’re too junior, you end up learning where to get the money from, right? Being a proactive, organized project manager is the best skill one can develop, no matter their educational or professional background.
Based on the profiles of job positions, do you notice skills or competences that your education didn’t provide you with?
Once the conservator Katelynn Cunningham told me we should change that “jack of all trades, master of none” expression for a “jack of all trades, master of getting things done” – and I believe heritage is pretty much about that.
We need to understand a site, its values and its needs; assess impacts on it; find funding for activities related to it, and for its safeguarding; create communication strategies, or coordinate projects; and basically understanding the daily needs of heritage. That’s why many heritage studies programmes offer mixed, multi-sectorial curriculums: a bit of architectural conservation, a bit of law, a bit of tourism. Heritage practitioners often have a full-round profile with knowledge of many areas, which definitely helps for developing a broader understanding of heritage. I do think that, in this complex and intertwined field, focusing on only one area can end up limiting you, and you always need to be able to see the bigger picture.
How do you think young people can be attracted to work in heritage? Do you have proposals?
Not gonna lie, working in corporate is more attractive for young people: easier to get in, many offers, better pay. But, at the end of the day, there’s a “passion” component in heritage practitioners. Heritage is a field full of quirky, passionate people that truly care about the area they work in, and that are very motivated and straight forward about management, safeguarding and protection of cultural and natural sites and practices.
Many young emerging professionals enter the heritage field by working, as we say in Spanish, “por amor al arte”; translated into “for the love towards art” (quite literally, in this case), even willing to take underpaid jobs. However, most of us are highly motivated and tend to find a way to make it work even if it’s hard to get in, there’s not may offers, and a worse pay compared to other fields. The issue here is not “how to make young people attracted to heritage?”, but rather “how to raise awareness of the diversity of carers within the heritage field, and the many options and possibilities for young people already attracted by heritage?”
How do you see the future of the cultural heritage field?
On one hand –and I’ll quote Dr. Cornelius Holtorf and his “future archaeology” on this one– we mistakenly tend to think of heritage as the study of the past, of our ancestors, or our roots; instead of seeing heritage as the study of our development, as a society or as a civilization. It’s not about where we come from but where we are going, or rather where we want to go. On the other, I’m very happy seeing a transition towards a people-nature-culture approach that considers heritage as a holistic, cross-sectional field.
Breaking up the classical conceptions of heritage and pushing it a bit to its limits will ensure that, when we pass it onto the future generations, they will continue deconstructing and reinventing the field. Culture is fluid, and so should be the cultural heritage field. Therefore, I’m very happy that the field is working in the right direction: less bureaucratization of classic conceptions of heritage, and over-valorisation of “high cultures”; more organic safeguarding of places and traditions with diverse, inclusive, and creative perspectives.