Ecomuseums are museums without walls; they are a landscape. They can exist in rural or urban areas, but they have to tell a remarkable story about the community in that area. As part of her work with the Mediterranean Institute of Nature and Anthropos and her Marie Curie funded research project, Aphrodite Sorotou has helped to create an Ecomuseum in the Vjosa / Aoos river basin on the border of Greece and Albania. But more importantly, working with the community there has led to a much greater awareness of, and interest in their cultural and environmental heritage.
Aphrodite is trained as an archaeologist and has worked on landscape heritage, management and planning for over a decade, for example, helping the Greek government to implement the European Landscape Convention. At a very early stage she felt that the way to create real change was to work with communities directly, so as to see what happens when communities are empowered to make their own decisions for the sustainable future of their place and its landscapes.
Working in the Aoos area, in Konitsa (Greece), Aphrodite and a transdisciplinary team of experts collaborate closely with local stakeholders towards building social-ecological resilience of the cultural landscapes of the area. The project has expanded greatly since: “the good thing is that it has reached a level that is beyond our control and they now work together without us”.
In the four years that she has been working in the area, a network of local people, professionals, academics, NGOs, regional and local authorities has been established. Together they have been active on the protection of their heritage and the management of negative changes that can occur if projects like the diversion of the Aoos River take place. The attempt of the Greek Authorities to divert an important river like Aoos, will not only alter the character and functions of the landscapes around it, but will also signify the alteration of values, principles and desires of the local communities by damaging their identity and rejecting their expectations. By encouraging the community to collaborate on common goals and to participate in the local decision-making processes, Aphrodite feels that they took an important first step towards saving their heritage.
Aphrodite also thinks that this collaboration with the ecomuseum network and others, can act as a pilot project for other communities to follow, both inside Greece and elsewhere. She continued “Education will need to play a role to show young people other ways of doing things. The current financial crisis can become an opportunity for the revitalisation of Greek rural areas; it has already brought people back to the countryside. Archaeological sites and declining cultural practices, such as transhumance and traditional pastoralism, have started to be rediscovered, reclaimed and recreated for the well-being of people and nature and for the economic revitalisation of the area and they help to keep communities together.”
This work is crucial, but it often falls between gaps in funding for the environment or for cultural heritage. If you are interested in funding or supporting such a project, please contact the College of Arts (email@example.com).
*Image: Crossing the Vjosa / Aoos river, Permet, Albania, 2013. Credits VAEcoM/Stamos Abatis.
Initially published Oct 2015 in Reach 07, the College of Arts Industry Engagement Newsletter.
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