The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) conserves built heritage, supports musicians, encourages excellence in architecture, runs a museum and offers education across its disciplines. It offers awards in music and architecture, and in its turn has received 20 awards for its restoration of historic cities around the world. But what ties these fields together - and what does culture have to do with development?
Luis Monreal, General Manager of AKTC, explains. “Culture is the soul of our body. It is the software that makes us rational, that gives us an identity, that makes us have feelings. In development, culture is this essential ingredient that allows people to feel that they belong to a community, that allows people to understand that there are other communities that should be respected.”
Luis’s journey ranges from Egyptian archaeology to mediaeval art curation. He founded the Getty Conservation Institute and served on the Master Jury of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture before taking on his current role in 2001. At AKTC his work incorporates both immaterial culture, such as music, and tangible aspects:
“The built environment [is] the most important framework for our lives. If we destroy this built environment, if we totally renovate it every generation, we will lose our identity. When we restore or rehabilitate historic cities, we are preserving assets that have an economic potential for current and future generations. In many cases, as His Highness has said, cultural heritage is the only viable asset that the community has.”
Luis considers AKTC to be unique, with its span of disciplines taking in architecture, music, education, heritage and more. “Agencies in AKDN are so diverse in the fields they operate in that they open more possibilities for co-funding from third parties.”
AKTC’s uniqueness also lies in the links it creates between cultural heritage and social and economic development. When investments in public space in cities such as Cairo, Kabul and Delhi are combined with microfinance and health programmes, the results are demonstrable. “We measure the impact, for example, family income over time, how this has progressed in a certain area of the city where we work, how it compares with other parts of the city or other cities in the same country.“
Luis notes that culture is an evolutionary process, with new generations inventing new languages and interests. “To plan the next 10 years requires anticipating what could happen. And the avalanche of information through the media makes it more difficult to understand the trends that are significant. But what I think is obvious is that as a large segment of humanity is fulfilling its material needs, culture is becoming more important.”