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It is important to understand the whole picture: why you are where you are and how you ended up there. In order to grasp larger cultural contexts you must above all understand yourself and your family history. According to Berndt Arell, this is the core of the cultural heritage idea. Currently employed as Director of the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, Arell will be taking over the leadership of the National Museum in Sweden in January 2012. He is one of the many wise people interviewed in this issue of DialogWeb on the subject of why immaterial cultural heritage is so important to us all. At the international level, the Baltic countries, Iceland and Norway are among the countries that have ratified Unesco’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, which entered into force in 2006.

Norwegian Kjærsti Gangsø is the manager of Studieforbundet kultur og tradisjon (Adult Education Association for Culture and Tradition). She talks about ”preserving by utilising” and illustrates her idea with an example: when it comes to folk dance and folk music, old traditions represent the ideal, but this ideal changes over time. Kjærsti herself is working hard to try and change Norwegian law so that it would allow the establishment of a blacksmith training programme.

The Icelandic woollen sweater is another fine example of how an old tradition can be renewed to create a source of revenue for small businesses, artists and designers. A competence centre in Eastern Iceland is busy with product development using local materials such as wood (there are forests in Hallormsstad in Eastern Iceland), wool, and materials derived from reindeer. In addition, the centre participates in Creative Communities. This Nordic project, with partners in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, focuses on exchanging experiences of local crafts and creating new jobs.

In the Faroe Islands, the craft of boat building is facing a risk of extinction, likewise the beautiful, traditional wooden boats. However there is light at the end of the tunnel: the boats are still used in the traditional rowing competitions, and now the Faroese Ministry of Culture has appointed a committee to investigate what is the best way of preserving this invaluable tradition.

Cultural heritage must be cherished, made use of and preserved not only by museums and other cultural institutions but also by the common man. This fact is amply demonstrated by the Estonian article, which discusses the national initiative that has been trying to chart immaterial heritage since 2010. Only customs and skills which are still in living use are recorded by ordinary people in the hope that they will survive. These traditions can entail anything ranging from the inimitable humour cultivated by the residents of Hiiumaa (they are most in their element when telling jokes about the inhabitants of the neighbouring island, Saaremaa), to skills such as crocheting lace, smoking fish and baking rye bread.

Traditions can be transmitted on a more modest scale, too, as the example of Ulf and Karin Eklund shows. This Åland-based couple have started an organic bakery and craft café at their own home. In addition, they educate groups of visitors by taking them out in the forest and teaching them cooking and baking skills.

The preservation of craft traditions can turn into an entire folk movement, which is what happened in the case of the craftivism phenomenon. The Swedish article introduces Brunaluna, Maskan and Luftmaskan, members of the Stickkontakt collective, who adorn the urban landscapes of Stockholm with knitted and crocheted decorations.

 -To begin with, this was just a fun thing to do, but over time it has brought up a lot of thoughts in us. We are adding something feminine into a street environment that  has, at least up until now, been built and designed mostly by men. You can make a difference just by adding a small element, Brunaluna says.

Passing on traditions can be an important pedagogic tool, too, as the Danish article tells us. Karen Maigaard runs an educational institution called Odense Fagskole. She talks about ”gøremålspædagogikk”, which could be translated roughly as the pedagogy of pottering. She points out that the students attending the Danish Home Economics and Crafts schools (which will be known as Frie fagskoler after 1 September) learn important skills such as social networking and making choices related to education and career. Maigaard says it is regrettable that the schools do not get the recognition they deserve. Also, paradoxically, they are struggling  with a lack of applicants, while at the same time the official goal of the Danish government is to ensure that  95 % of young people complete a youth education.

A society that gives everyone a genuine chance of finding out who they are and why they are here – surely that is what we all want?