The final event of the two-year EU funded project “CHOICE – Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement” was held on 6 June at the Committee of the Regions, in Brussels.

The event was organized by ALDA with the support of the network European cities and regions for culture – LIKE. President of ALDA, Oriano Otočan, opened the meeting, stating that projects on culture strongly impact on local development across Europe, especially in less wealthy areas. “Through this project ALDA continues to contribute to social and economic local development, coupling it with civic participation. Being ALDA particularly result oriented, I wish you to strengthen cooperation and develop further projects together” concluded Otočan.

Sinziana Poiana, Civil Society Policy Officer – Neighbourhood East, confirmed the support of the European Commission toward the issue of preservation of cultural heritage, and recognized the need to find the missing part in the communication between civil society and the government.

Partners from four countries in the Eastern partnership (Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova) presented the results and impact of the project in their countries. CHOICE mobilized a significant number of people who believe that cultural heritage needs protection; our mini projects have influenced local communities by involving different local and national stakeholders. From the Rock festival in the depressed, post-industrial city of Vanadzor in Armenia, to digitalization of cultural heritage in Ukraine; from forming a “mythopoetic” perception of the town and its historical centre among the residents of Oshmyany in Belarus, to the Crossroads of Cultures Through the Lenses of Young Photographers from Moldova and Armenia, participants of the meeting had observed the whole variety of results of the project.

As a matter of fact, in each of the countries part of the project, CHOICE became an acronym for protection of cultural heritage and empowerment of local communities. Our main achievement is the network created, and its human capital – more than 30 projects, involving more than 50 organizations and hundreds of people. Active citizens living in the communities hosting cultural heritage sites and items are now trained to protect them, and to spread their knowledge.

On the policy level, our project achieved to be the bridge between governments and communities. Policy papers created in the frame of the project are examples of inclusive work of experts, community leaders and policy makers.

The meeting was also the occasion to discuss issues related to policies of the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. Among the panellists Margaux Rouchet from LIKE – Network of European cities and regions for culture, Tim Williams of the Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity program, and Jozef Van Waeyenberge, Director of Europa Nostra Belgium, together with experts from the countries involved – Vera Erhan from Moldova, Zoryana Rybchynska from Ukraine, and Mikhal Anempadzistau from Belarus. Speakers highlighted the crucial role of local authorities for the protection of cultural heritage, since work with local communities makes the heritage understandable and accessible to people. Local authorities should therefore also play a major role in policy dialogue. In this sense, the project CHOICE became an example of community mobilization through cultural heritage, and its actions can be replicated in other countries.

Panel discussions were followed by the exhibition – handcraft from Armenia, ceramics from Moldova, photos and many other materials from Ukraine and Belarus, colourfully showcasing the results of project CHOICE.

Next year, 2018 will be the European Year of Cultural Heritage. “Our cultural heritage is more than the memory of our past; it is the key to our future. A European Year of Cultural Heritage will be an opportunity to raise awareness on the social and economic importance of cultural heritage and to promote European excellence in the sector” stated EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics. We believe that our project CHOICE anticipated this process and was it preparatory phase, and that it will further stimulate discussion and exchange.

All partners of CHOICE will continue working to support cultural heritage in the enlarged Europe. It was a long and enriching journey together, and we wish it will develop further joint initiatives!

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Final event of project CHOICE – Paving the way to European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018