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Modern Heritage Observatory Project


The Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), Irab Association for Arabic Music (IRAB), the Arab Centre for Architecture (ACA) and the Cinémathèque de Tanger are partners in this initiative which aims to advocate for the preservation of modern cultural heritage – with an emphasis on photography, music, architecture, video and film – in the Middle East and North Africa.

As they struggle for sustainability, cultural heritage actors in the MENA region seek to raise awareness on the need to support and improve the preservation of modern cultural heritage among political and institutional sectors and the general public. The project partners have come together to mobilise for joint action to impact policies and legal frameworks, and to generate political commitment
towards modern cultural heritage.
Through the creation of a network between professional bodies from the MENA region, the project seeks the exchange of experience, pooling of expertise and the elaboration of strategies for joint advocacy actions. By organizing various activities such as trainings, national and regional meetings, film screenings, exhibitions, and publication of articles, the partners in the project will contribute in making modern cultural heritage of the Arab world more extensively preserved and widely accessible.
The First networking meeting for the Modern Heritage Observatory (MOHO) project took place on 26 March 2012. As an initial step towards the creation of a network, the meeting was divided into an introductory phase, during which each partner and participant organization briefly presented the nature of their work, focusing on their background in cultural heritage through their area of expertise; the second phase consisted of a round-table discussion, assessing and tackling common issues and identifying potential opportunities for cooperation.
The meeting’s Participants included: Archileb, AUB’s Archives and Special Collections, Beit Beirut, Bibliotheque Orientale [USJ], Dar Al-Hayat Information Center, Fondation Liban Cinema, Fouad Debbas Collection, The institute for Palestine Studies, The Lebanese National Library Rehabilitation Project, Metropolis, Ministry of Tourism, Nada El-Khoury, Save Beirut Heritage, Sten Walegren, UMAM Documentation & Research and Zaki Nassif Music Program (AUB).
The issues discussed during that meeting included:
I. Common Storage Space
Several participant organizations voiced their need for bigger storage space to
accommodate a continuously growing collection. Thus having a common space
was suggested, to house the archival materials.
Issues raised
1. There was a concern about building a parallel structure having the same responsibility as some governmental initiatives:
• This is the responsibility of the Centre des Archives Nationales.
• Do we want to put our efforts into creating something parallel to the national library or actually support it.
• We should build upon the library not work parallel to it.
Answers addressing this issue included:
• Most of us are skeptical about leaving such an important and delicate matter to the government.
• There is no disclosure or awareness of what is really going on in the National Library, what are its activities. To help them acquire or store materials, the activities must be publicized.
• Civil society must pressure the officials to have a facility that responds to its needs.
2. Questions and concern of the space’s logistics and maintenance were raised:
• It is difficult to be accountable for such a common storage space. Who’s in charge? Who’s accountable? Is it realistic? Who is responsible for maintenance?
• There is the issue of confidence, there are a lot of sensitive documents about the war, this is a question of sharing, who has access, and issues of safety.
 3. How will the funding gap of such a space be bridged
• Common space is not part of the EU project. Maybe we should draft a
separate proposal for this
• We can have a fundraising to rent a common archival space.
• It should be provided for free as a donation, not rented.
Suggested preliminary steps to be taken
-Because the organizations work in a variety of fields and deal with different media, working groups categorized according to similar needs in terms of preservation, storage and training, was suggested as a prerequisite to any action, in order to assess their needs and act accordingly.
-A survey will be sent to assess each organization’s archive, the types of media, space needed and other specifications.
II. Raising awareness: addressing the media and general public
To shed light on the different activities and archival practices of participant organizations, and to raise public awareness on protection of cultural heritage, several options were discussed In order to obtain exposure.
1. The MOHO website will serve as a platform for communication and cooperation between the organizations, and for communicating the project’s activities in addition to the associations’ individual activities. The immense variety of the archives can be used to make the website interactive through the creation of a virtual museum.
• Infuse the website with links to partners’ activities and archival practices.
• The website can be used for exchanging expertise in technical tools of preservation.
• We can also use the website to talk about our success stories.
• It would facilitate exchanging information and documents to integrate them in different projects.
2. Press releases in national newspapers, to introduce the public on relevant activities and projects. Furthermore, a weekly space in the cultural pages of national newspapers will be devoted for publishing cultural heritage stories and activities. Ideally, this will help to reach and involve the public
in the protection of cultural heritage.
• We have to start with a press release to publicize what we’re doing. We want the public to help us.
• We have a lot of national newspapers. On the cultural pages, we can publish some pictures and a few lines for each partner. This would be gladly received, because they usually don’t have that much material. The stories should be frequent, because consistency is key in involving the public.
• Projects have to be communicated and accessible.
• We have a lot of powerful visuals that can be very appealing if used in the media. It would attract people, and make them want to preserve it.
3. Joint exhibitions of archival materials, organized around a certain theme, would familiarize the public with the significance of cultural preservation.
• We need to plan a joint exhibition of endangered materials, or maybe some sort of a festival with different activities
• Lebanese people are not in touch with their cultural heritage. We need to raise awareness and involve the public in the preservation of their heritage.
• We have to include the pubic in our activities. Some argued that it would be too overwhelming and counterproductive to include all the various types of archival materials together, and suggested to organize the exhibitions according to genre of materials.
• Exhibiting all these materials together won’t work. We organize a festival of endangered movies to show just a few of the 100’s of such movies.
• The variety of the media and genres is not an issue if it falls under the same theme.
• It is more powerful to have a big, encompassing exhibition. It would be more appealing.
• The idea is to make it themed around modern or contemporary heritage, so that the exhibition would be like an act of resistance against the loss of ALL this heritage.
III. Lobbying for a legal framework and governmental support
The status of cultural heritage protection laws is very ambiguous, thus the preliminary action to be taken will be drafting all the existing laws to clearly assess the existing legal framework, including its loopholes and shortcomings. Lobbying for officials’ support can be reinforced and rendered much more
effective when the organizations are presented as a coalition or a network.
• We have to hire a lawyer to draft the existing laws of protecting cultural heritage.
• Media is the most effective way to pressure and push for officials’ support. We need to be able to offer them media attention in order for them to support us. Otherwise we would be stuck in a never-ending chain of referrals and shifting the blame and responsibility from one official to the next.
IV. Preliminary Action plan
• Assessment survey of organizations’ archival details and needs.
• Plan networking meeting to discuss needs and draft an action plan accordingly.


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