TRACS appointed to Safeguard Scotland’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

The team from TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) and music students from Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music based in Plockton, are heading off to Kaustinen in Finland next week (14-18 February) as part of an educational exchange with Kaustinen College of Music, and to witness first-hand the work the team at the Finnish Folk Music Institute does to safeguard Finland’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

Kaustinen, which is home to the world renowned Folk Music Festival, is best known for its four century-old fiddling tradition. Since 2018, the team at the Finnish Folk Music Institute has been working as one of UNESCO’s expert advisors on intangible cultural heritage to help safeguard this fiddling tradition and Finland’s other unique cultural practices.

Steve Byrne, Director of TRACS speaking at the Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference in Birnam Arts in 2023. Photo Neil Hanna

In December last year, TRACS received confirmation of its own successful application to become an accredited NGO advisor on ICH (subject to final rubber-stamping in July 2024) and is now keen to make valuable personal connections with its opposite numbers at the Finnish Folk Music Institute and other organisations working in the fields of ICH across the globe. During this trip they hope to gain a better understanding of how safeguarding works in practice, witness first-hand the uniquely vibrant musical and cultural life of Kaustinen, as well as supporting the school exchange as an example of international tradition-sharing and ICH in practice.The trip will be documented  to allow TRACS to report back and share their findings with partner ICH organisations in Scotland and the wider UK.

Intangible Cultural Heritage is a tradition, practice, or living expression of a group or community. This can include oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and traditional crafts.  Examples of ICH in Scotland are wide reaching, and include practices such as Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Festival or the Edinburgh Mela, cultural traditions such as bothy ballads, bagpiping, and clootie wells, games such as shinty, the making of food such as haggis, and traditional crafts such as thatching and Fair Isle knitting.

Illustrator Sarah Ahmad of Floating Design mapping Intangible Cultural Heritage at the ICH Conference at Birnam Arts in 2023. Photo credit Neil Hanna

TRACS’s appointment as an expert advisor to UNESCO means, among other things, that they are now recognised internationally for the work they have been doing on ICH and, along with Museums and Galleries Scotland, are one of only two organisations in Scotland who experts on intangible cultural heritage and advisors in this field. Both organisations along with Historic Environment Scotland and Creative Scotland are part of the ICH Scotland Partnership Group which was sent up to safeguard ICH in Scotland and drive forward UK ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.. This convention has already been ratified by 180 countries worldwide, and in December 2023 the UK announced their intention to ratify it following the outcomes of a consultation by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which closes on 29 February 2024. This live consultation will inform the UK government’s strategy for recording and safeguarding ICH and will gather opinions from the public and organisations across the UK on the types of cultural practices and traditions that should be protected and sustained for future generations.

Link to survey:

Director of TRACS Steve Byrne said:

“We are delighted that the UK has now agreed to ratify the UNESCO ICH Convention. It helps shine a light on the wealth of cultural traditions practised and treasured in local communities the world over, but which often go neglected by the mainstream. ICH is in many ways what might be called ‘everyday culture’ and it is crucial that we work to support the ways in which communities see themselves and make sense of the world around them through music, dance, story or craft. A huge amount of work has taken place internationally over the past two decades on ICH safeguarding so we are keen to learn from our friends in Finland ways in which Scotland can look after its traditional cultures most effectively.”  

Mike Vass said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for our students and staff to experience the traditions, music and culture of Finland – courtesy of our friends and colleagues in Kaustinen. We see this shared venture as broadening the horizons of our students, deepening their understanding of the world and giving valuable insight into the preservation and appreciation of our collective cultural heritage.”

Hilkka Rauhala from Kaustinen’s Music College said: “We are looking forward to hosting our friends from Scotland next week, here in Kaustinen. Our trip to Plockton in October 2019 seems so long ago, I’m sure we will have a lot to talk about, especially now that TRACS will be joining us as an expert advisor to UNESCO on intangible cultural heritage.”

Teachers and students from Kaustinen College of Music and Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music, in October 2019.

Since it was set up in 2011, TRACS has been key to developing and showcasing Scotland’s rich cultural heritage, advocating for the traditional arts, and making music, storytelling and dance inclusive and accessible aspects of everyday life across Scotland. It has also been instrumental to the success of the annual Scottish International Storytelling Festival, and the People’s Parish Project, and supports communities to discover and rediscover a ‘sense of place’ for present and future generations through stories, traditions, and heritage history led by local creative practitioners.

ICH Consultation

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