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Inaugural visit to Saudi Arabia for ICOM President

ICOM President Hans-Martin Hinz spoke at the Art and Heritage Forum in Riyadh and met with HRH Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz AL Saud, Chair of ICOM Saudi Arabia

Inaugural visit to Saudi Arabia for ICOM President

As part of the Art and Heritage Forum, organized by the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 17 to 20 April, 2016, Prof. Dr Hans-Martin Hinz, President of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) invited by its Chairwoman, HRH Princess Adila bint Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, spoke about the global museum community’s responsibility for the protection of cultural heritage. This forum, with heritage and museum professionals, gathered experts from international, national and regional heritage organisations, focusing on the best practices to preserve and conserve heritage at all levels. As Dr Hinz reminded “World Heritage Day is an important opportunity for heritage professionals to speak about the challenges of our times, and a way to increase public awareness about the importance of the protection, preservation and conservation of our cultural and natural heritage, within museums and beyond.” 

In the first visit of an ICOM President to Saudi Arabia, Dr Hinz officially met with HRH Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz AL Saud, Chair of ICOM Saudi Arabia as well as of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. The official meeting focused on the most efficient ways to increase international museum relations and enable cooperation programmes in the future. Capacity building is in great demand in Saudi Arabia and ICOM can leverage its expertise and support on the country in this pursuit. 

The Capacity building programme for museum professionals is an ongoing global programme offered by ICOM for participants with different levels of expertise. As an example, the permanent International Training Centre in Beijing includes collection management and focuses on middle management young professionals. There are also other capacity building pilot projects worldwide enabling heritage and museum expertise to spread around the globe. Together with other international heritage organisations, ICOM offers help, capacity building and advice to museums and administrations in areas of conflicts where cultural heritage is at risk, or where destruction has occurred. In early 2017 another ICOM capacity building seminar will take place in Doha, Qatar.

The Art and Heritage Forum event was a perfect opportunity for the newly created ICOM National Committee in Saudi Arabia to present ICOM to the region’s heritage professionals, boosted by the presence of ICOM’s President in Riyadh.

As 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of ICOM, Dr. Hinz recalled the commemoration of “70 years of work for the global museum community, the protection of cultural heritage within and outside of museums all over the world, and the role that ICOM has played as a forum for international dialogue among museum professionals at an international level.” 

ICOM’s President stressed the role of museums in the service of society and the preservation of its material aspects. These subjects should be continually discussed among museum professionals, politicians and museum owners. In Dr Hinz’s words, “This is not only to ensure that museums strive to be frontrunners in exchanging information and dialogue about history, culture and nature, and the protection of cultural heritage, but also to promote sustainable practices and ongoing education through the use of their resources. People – visitors and communities – should gain value from museum resources and presentations in order to develop an inquiring consciousness that stimulates us all in understanding the past and the present.” 

As part of ICOM’s most important tools, Dr Hinz mentioned the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums as a fundamental set of standards for museum professional worldwide. He furthermore stressed the importance of the 15 Red Lists for cultural heritage at risk, in which typical objects from concerned regions vulnerable to illicit trafficking are highlighted.  He also mentioned how over a period of three years, with the financial support of the European Union, ICOM has developed an International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, which has a dedicated website. 

Dr Hinz also spoke about ICOM’s close relations with UNESCO. In the most recent UNESCO General Conference, a Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums, their Diversity and their Role in Society, drafted by ICOM, was approved.  This is UNESCO’s first museum-related document in 55 years and shows the fundamental role of ICOM for the museum sector and society, for 70 years now.