Fiona Hyslop: the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology gives Scotland an edge

Written by Fiona Hyslop on 2 May 2017 in Inside Politics

The Culture Secretary on how the 'themed years' work for Scottish tourism and VisitScotland

Fiona Hyslop - Holyrood/David Anderson

A year dedicated to celebrating Scotland’s historic legacy reveals how the built environment – old and new – changes lives for the better.

Our themed years programme has shone a light on our dynamic and creative nation and is helping achieve our target of growing tourism’s economic potential to over £5.5bn by 2020.

The programme and partners, such as last year’s Festival of Architecture, play a key role in giving Scottish tourism an edge – galvanising partnership work to create a strong collaborative platform to promote Scotland and its people.


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2016 was the Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design as well as the centenary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. And what a terrific year of celebration it was. At the heart of it was our nation’s creativity, design skills and innovation. Following on from that is 2017: the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. 

The Festival of Architecture began with Hinterland by NVA at the world-renowned St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. St Peter’s, an iconic modernist ruin now being transformed into an innovative public art and performance venue, was a spectacular backdrop for the project which combined our 20th century heritage and contemporary design in a remarkable way.

The festival looked at many aspects of Scotland’s contemporary design and heritage. It helped show Scotland’s built environment, old and new, has something for everyone. The way the Festival of Architecture has helped to involve and inspire local communities was one of the most valuable aspects of the year. Importantly, it involved communities across the length and breadth of the country.

When visiting the Rockfield Centre in Oban for the start of their local celebration, I had the opportunity to see an excellent example of community-led change.

It’s a great credit to the area that the prospect of losing a listed school building catalysed such a powerful and committed response to not only save an important piece of heritage but establish a terrific creative and cultural asset.

There were many other examples of events and activities which made design and innovation more accessible throughout 2016. The story of Scottish fashion, design and decorative art is now drawing in audiences to new galleries that opened last summer at the National Museum of Scotland.

In Dundee, the city’s ambitions for design in built environment have gone from strength to strength.  

With the forward-looking 30-year Waterfront project and the construction of Kengo Kuma’s design for the V&A Museum of Design under way, the city is a great example of visionary planning and culture-led regeneration. With this and all its other creative achievements, it’s no wonder that the city was chosen to become a UNESCO City of Design in 2014.

The astonishing richness of activities during the Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design was very impressive and opened our eyes to what is around us and the importance of being innovative and creative in all walks of life. 

It also pointed to the importance of the past in building a strong future. A key focus of the third International Culture Summit, held at the Scottish Parliament, was the importance of protecting and preserving our cultural heritage.

More than 40 countries discussed the vital roleculture plays in the life of any successful community. We heard from a range of speakers, from Youssou N’Dour to Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, as well as countless thought-provoking ideas and contributions in public forums and workshops.

Professor Abdulkarim, the Director-General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria, spoke passionately about the irrevocable damage to World Heritage Sites. While Scotland’s historic, vibrant capital provided a fitting backdrop for the summit, it was also a poignant reminder of the importance of preserving our own cultural heritage. 

Professor Abdulkarim described the destruction of priceless monuments taking place in many parts of Syria, and the efforts of his team to conceal important collections. His lecture, ‘Heritage and Conflict: Syria’s Battle To Protect Its Past’, gave details of World Heritage Sites, along with ancient landmarks, that have been damaged or destroyed due to terrorism and war, from mausoleums in Timbuktu to ancient monuments in Palmyra and the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

Culture and heritage are global treasures. The actions of the International Criminal Court in bringing to justice those who led the destruction of the Timbuktu mausoleums underline the resolve of the international community to protect our heritage. The ICC ruling sent an important message to those who see culture and heritage as targets. 

The Scottish Government was keen to support UK ratification of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and obtained the unequivocal agreement of the Scottish Parliament to extend the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017 to Scotland.  

I am always struck by how fortunate we are in Scotland to have the most inspiring history and heritage on our doorstep. 2017 is the year to delve into the past and discover Scotland’s fascinating tangible and intangible heritage – from Celtic Connections to Doors Open Day, the Royal National Mod to the variety of Scotland’s whisky festivals, to mention just a few.

There are a great number of events happening throughout the year including Georgian Shadows, a six-week-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the plan for Edinburgh’s New Town which involved floodlighting key buildings including the First Minister’s residence, Bute House.

I also attended an event celebrating World Heritage Day at Callendar House in Falkirk, where the Antonine Wall, Scotland’s part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire international site, runs through the grounds.  

Looking to future protection of our heritage, and on a wider scale, Scotland’s museum and heritage organisations have valued expertise in archaeology, conservation and digital documentation that can help support and protect culture and heritage in areas at risk through conflict.

The Scottish Ten, a partnership between Historic Environment Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio, wants to position Scotland as a world leader in visualising historic environments. Already, the Scottish Ten has demonstrated the huge potential of new technologies to both document and virtually reconstruct historic sites across the world. 

The project is helping conserve and manage Scotland’s World Heritage Sites and five international heritage sites: New Lanark, Orkney, St Kilda, Edinburgh, the Antonine Wall, Mount Rushmore, Rani ki Vav, Eastern Qing Tombs, the Sydney Opera House and Nagasaki. 

There is no doubt the same process can be applied to other locations, particularly if they are damaged or endangered.  

Digital survey and visualisation can provide a vital resource for technical conservation and subsequent monitoring, but can also be used to virtually restore what has been damaged. Where resources and conditions allow, it may also be used to help rebuild damaged buildings and monuments. Using digital tools mean records can be created rapidly and in immense detail, compared with timescales required for traditional surveys.

The Scottish Ten has demonstrated the creation of a good digital record is now both desirable and sensible, especially where there is an anticipated threat – either by natural or malicious means. When teamed with historic files, the combination of traditional and digital records is immensely powerful. 

The years of innovation, architecture and design and of history, heritage and archaeology are shining a light on the quality of our design skills, but also what built environment, old and new, and placemaking can do to change people’s lives for the better.

They have also celebrated the value of design thinking itself. 

We are committed to enhancing Scotland’s international reputation as a dynamic and creative nation and believe it should be both nourished and celebrated. We all have to be dynamic and innovative when it comes to our culture, and through international cooperation, culture in many forms can provide the ties that bind us all.  

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