General Assembly & Conference 2017 – Barcelona

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General Assembly & Conference 2017 – Barcelona

From 27 Sep 2017 to 1 Oct

The European Historic Houses Association held its Annual General Assembly and Conference from September 27 to October 1 2017 in Barcelona, Spain – a city with a vibrant cultural heritage and architectural diversity. This four-day event included a Conference, gala dinner, the General Assembly and Executive Committee of the Association, as well as a rich programme of cultural visits. It was an opportunity to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of our Catalan Association, MONUMENTA, and to prepare for the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage.

The programme started on Thursday 28 September with the Conference ‘2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage: Promoting the role of historic houses owners in Catalonia and across Europe’ organized in Casa Mila – La Pedrera, an iconic building by the architect Antoni Gaudi.
The participants were welcomed by Javier Gimeno Brio, President of MONUMENTA, and Rodolphe de Looz-Corswarem, President of the European Historic Houses Association, who talked about the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, which is a crucial subject in Barcelona, given the challenges linked to over-tourism that the city is facing. Rodolphe de Looz-Corswarem highlighted the fact that the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage was the result of a long running campaign by the heritage sector; focused on the idea that cultural heritage contributes to Europe both economically and socially. The 50.000 private owners represented by the Association contribute enormously to this by creating locally based jobs, opening their houses and organizing activities to stimulate citizens’ engagement with culture and heritage, and by ensuring the sustainable management and succession of their heritage to future generations.

The first keynote speech was delivered by Maria Tena, Advisor to the Spanish Directorate General of Fine Arts & Cultural Heritage. She shared the government’s initiatives for the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, including events, conferences, and a photographic exhibition. They will focus on restoration, preservation, accessibility, and democratization of heritage – with a specific scheme targeting young people about heritage interpretation. The second keynote speech was delivered by Artis Pabriks, Member of the European Parliament, which focused on the importance of raising citizens’ awareness on cultural heritage, and on its crucial role in building our identities. He stressed the importance of creating synergies and fostering collaboration to make the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage a success – and to disseminate its positive outcomes in the following years.

Enric Nubiola, Coordinator of international projects on culture, tourism and development at LABPATC, drew attention to best practices in associated private management of cultural heritage as a way to alleviate the challenges relating to heritage preservation and management. Esteban Raventos, Partner at Baker & McKenzie, shared some insights into potential improvements in the taxation systems relating to heritage houses, notably by setting a reduced VAT rate for heritage works, but also by promoting family business regimes, and by taking inspiration from the US system of patronage. MONUMENTA members José Mata Herberg and Joan Botey I Serra shared the challenges they face and innovative business practices they have developed to make their houses self-sustainable, with little support from public institutions. Finally, Dana Beldiman, President of the Latvian Castles and Manor Association, drew on the Latvian experience to show that private historic houses have to function as productive entities, as businesses, in order to survive. The role of private owners is thus to capitalize on the assets of their house to create a successful business model, with an appropriate branding strategy.

The roundtable addressed the potential solutions to the current challenges in the heritage field, in light of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, with members of the government of Catalonia, private owners of historic houses, and representatives from the Caixa Banking Foundation and from Hispania Nostra.

The day ended with a prestigious Gala dinner, organized with the generous support of Christie’s at the Circulo Ecuestre. It gathered more than 100 people, including the Association’s governors, the speakers of the Conference and MONUMENTA members.

On Friday 29 September, the Association’s governors met at the Foment del Treball Nacional for the Association’s General Assembly. The meeting enabled constructive discussions on the VAT issue, energy efficiency directives currently under revision, and on the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. The Association also presented two programs, under the umbrella of the Voices of Culture, where it strives to make private owners’ voice heard: the stakeholders group on the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, and on ‘Skills, training & knowledge transfer in cultural heritage’. The Welcoming Estates Website initiative, held in partnership with the Friends of the Countryside, was also presented. William Cartwright-Hignett, Next Genertion coordinator, presented the progresses of the Next Generation group and announced the 2018 Conference, which will be held in Seville on March 2-4 2018.

The opportunities provided by the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage were discussed at length, notably the main European events that Association members should attend, as well as the specific EU program opportunities. Governors vowed to support the two main activities which will be carried out by the Association: the Private Heritage Week (24-27 May 2018), and the photographic competition.

The cultural program started with a tour and lunch at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a World Heritage Site, and continued at the Casa de la Seda, one of the oldest guild houses in Barcelona. Finally, the participants were treated to a guided-tour of El Viver, a house dating back to the 12th century.

Participants were privileged to start the next day with a visit of the Castillo de la Rapita; a house that is inhabited all year-round and where the family focuses on the maintenance of the house and development of the arable lands. The programme was followed by a lunch and visit to the Castell de Riudabella, where participants had the pleasure of enjoying specialty food and activities.

The programme closed with a visit and dinner at Parque Sama, a house characteristic for its ‘Indiano’ style and surrounded by a magnificent park. The Award Ceremony crowned the Castillo de la Rapita with the ‘2017 Historic Houses Awards’ for the family’s tremendous work in maintaining the authenticity of the house, which dates back from 200 years B.C.

Next year’s field visits will be organized in the Netherlands in the spring of 2018, while the Conference and General Assembly will be organized in Brussels in November, to celebrate the end of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage and to plan for the years to come.

For further information on the Association, or on its activities for the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage, please contact: