Common ground

Insurgence, imagination and intangible heritage

Authored by: Jos Smith

The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138860551
eBook ISBN: 9781315716404
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506898


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Intangibility has been at the heart of the working practice of the British arts and environmental charity Common Ground from its beginnings in 1983. Over the years, Common Ground has been responsible for a number of imaginative and thought-provoking cultural projects that have celebrated place and its meanings. As an organisation it has worked with artists and with communities to excite and inspire people to engage creatively with their environment, and to speak up for what they value about it. A distinctive form of conservation grew out of this work, arguing for a neglected heritage of field names, folklore, crafts, dialect, seasonal celebrations, vernacular architecture, local produce and traditional foods and drinks. However, with its emphasis on the ordinary historical intertwining of human culture and the living landscape, this was not heritage as it was understood at the time. In fact, Common Ground’s most intense period of activity took place during the heritage debates of the 1980s in Britain when the relationship between intangibility and heritage was a complicated one. As Sue Clifford describes:

We are particularly keen to help people explore and express how important places are to them, not because they are beautiful or special, but because of local distinctiveness – the familiarity of the details, dynamism and patina of everyday life, the accumulation of histories of ordinary people and the presence of commonplace nature which gives the place meaning. It is these intangible richnesses which enable us to tell our own stories and lift our humanity, which are being erased, ‘themed’, heritagised or privatised, leaving us with endlessly similar, unloved places.

(Clifford, 1996a, p. 1)

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