CULTURE conservation may be the least concern of people preoccupied with the latest showbiz events and fashion trends. And that is exactly what organizations like the International Course for the Study Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO-SPAFA) plan to address. It is exactly with the aim to re-educate people about the importance of culture conservation that the international course, Collections Asia 2010 (COLLASIA), was born.

COLLASIA was ICCROM’s and SEAMEO-SPAFA’s response to growing threats to Southeast Asian cultural heritage in 2002, and was held in different countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Netherlands, addressing different issues in flexible materials, conservation and exhibition, and preservation of textiles in Southeast Asian museum collections. The courses were attended by different heritage professionals from across Southeast Asia.

In recent years, ICCROM has introduced various new courses. Last year, for example, they had a course on Preventive Conservation in Rome attended by the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences assistant director Clarissa Avendaño.

“Unlike other ICCROM events, COLLASIA is specifically for heritage workers from Southeast Asia,” Avendaño said.

This year, ICCROM and SEAMEO-SPAFA bring COLLASIA to the Philippines for the first time to discuss storage problems of any collections.

The course aims to teach the participants, who are mostly heritage workers and museum curators in their own countries, to carefully manage and maintain stored materials in heritage institutions.

The event boasts of different firsts, said COLLASIA project manager Katriina Simila.

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“This is the first time we are holding a course in the Philippines,” said Simila who cites that the Filipino hospitality as a major consideration for choosing the Philippines as this year’s host.

Simila said that hospitality is part of Filipino heritage.

This is also the first time COLLASIA is having a key partnership with a university.

The National Museum should have been the main host for the events but since the University has its own museum and a hostel at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex where most of the COLLASIA seminars are being held, UST was chosen instead, Simila said.

No Better Time

The course could not have been hosted at a better time. The month of May has been proclaimed as National Heritage Month through the Presidential Proclamation 439. But the proclamation may not be enough to cover everything.

“The government should allocate a bigger budget to culture conservation,” suggested Anna Bautista, assistant director of the UST Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the tropics.

Bautista also thinks that the government should spend more money on awareness campaigns and that stricter rules should be implemented especially for the maintenance of heritage sites.

“Because of the government’s laxity, some of these heritage sites are taken for granted,” Bautista said.

Currently, there are five United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites in the Philippines— the rice terraces, the historic town of Vigan, the Puerto Prinsesa Subterranean River National Park, and the different Baroque churches.

Heritage sites are nominated by state parties or governments to the UNESCO. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will then deliberate if the nominated property meets at least one of the 10 natural and cultural criteria.

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With the government’s shortcomings, some companies have come forward to raise awareness of the importance of culture and its conservation according to Bautista. Ford Foundation and Instituto Cervantes, for example, grant scholarships and fund studies for heritage conservation.

SEAMEO-SPAFA’s project manager Kevin Kettle also thinks that the country’s fiscal woes contribute to problems hounding culture conservation in the country. Unlike the Philippines, some of our more financially-stable Southeast Asian neighbors, Malaysia and Thailand for instance, allocate bigger budgets to their culture conservation.

“The Philippines has a worse economic problem compared with other Southeast Asian nations, and that is a disadvantage,” Kettle said.

The responsibility to take care of our culture, however, does not lie solely with the government or any organization. People must also do their share. After all apathy is one of the greatest threats to culture conservation, said Simila.

“Unless there is an ongoing commitment from the people, then there is nothing a funding organization can do,” Simila said.

Bautista also stressed the important role people must play in culture conservation. And it all starts with loving our own. “By loving our country, we become aware,” Bautista said. “When we become aware, we learn to appreciate. I. A. L. De Lara

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