The fact is that, in poor neighbourhoods, culture is often the only potential economic asset at the disposal of a community. So, we use culture as a lever, a springboard for improvements in the overall quality of life. We believe culture in general and historic heritage in particular can catalyse a community. Look at the revival of pilgrimages to khanqahs in Pakistan, or the two million visitors per year that come to Azhar Park in Cairo, or the picnickers in Kabul’s Baghe Babur.
Cultural operations can bring immediate economic opportunities to a community. While agricultural activities may be slow to provide a secure source of income, the development of cultural heritage assets can benefit the community rather quickly, principally through an array of tourism-related trades. For communities whose horizons have dimmed, or even given up hope, this is important.
His Highness the Aga Khan saw the power of culture when he asked, in 1983, “What will the impact of this be on generations to come? Are the young people in these countries going to recognize their own cultural identity in these buildings ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now? Or, are they going to find themselves in a situation where they will have achieved political independence but will find it extremely difficult to revive their own cultural traditions? What would be the consequences… when cultural heritage is lost?” (Interview with Paul Chutkow: “The Aga Khan’s Vision”, Connoisseur Magazine, September 1983)
The Trust’s answer to that question is the need to preserve cultural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy. We think that culture – by which I mean both tangible historic heritage like monuments, parks, gardens and museums, and intangible manifestations of culture, such as music – must be preserved and developed in a comprehensive manner.
Finally, as in all countries in which it works, AKTC, like AKDN, takes a long-term view. Some of our programmes, which started over 40 years ago, show how the creation of parks and gardens, conservation of landmark buildings, improvements to the urban fabric or the revitalisation of cultural heritage can provide the conditions for other forms of development to flourish.
This extensive experience has shown that there are social and economic benefits that are generated when conserving cultural heritage. These benefits include the promotion of good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment.
So, we do not think in the short-term, but in decades and in generations to come.