Cultural heritage professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of care being taken by municipalities for their cultural heritage objects which include works of art in public places. They have therefore begun to ask the public to help take care of “their” cultural heritage through so-called public participation projects. Cultural heritage professionals tacitly assume that if they “teach” the public to treasure such objects of “their” heritage, the public will become more proactive in helping to conserve them.

However, research being conducted by the authors is showing that a majority of the general public often has a completely different awareness and/or feeling about cultural heritage objects in their neighborhoods than the cultural heritage professionals think they have, or think they should have. Three recent case studies carried out by the authors show that these differences are most noticeable during so-called “value moments” at the beginning and at the perceived end of an object’s life. These are the two moments when decisions are made, usually by cultural heritage professionals, to place an object in a neighborhood or have it significantly changed or removed, often to the surprise and disagreement of the residents. Between these two moments lay many moments when an object is taken for granted, grudgingly accepted, or not even noticed.

Given the fact that cultural heritage professionals often make the ultimate decisions and do not always consider or outright ignore public opinion, it should not be surprising that there is an increasingly negative public perception of what they do. The results of the case studies illustrate the need for professionals to consider and accept as valid, public feelings about cultural heritage objects in their neighborhoods.

Introduction

Cultural heritage institutions including museums and historic sites are looking for ways to attract more visitors to their exhibitions and increase financing for their projects. The development of so-called public participation programs has become an important part of that work in recent years. Such programs include education programs for various age groups, the development of on-line catalogues, and activities such as having the public design their own collections.

Similar pressures to engage the public are being placed on objects of cultural heritage in public places. We define “objects of cultural heritage” in the broadest physical sense of the term, and include works of art, statues and other monuments, historic/registered buildings and other structures, and historic landscapes such as parks or historic city centers. Cultural heritage professionals including (art) historians, conservators, curators and artists themselves are concerned about the real or perceived lack of care being taken by municipalities for such objects. Many objects in public places have been paid for by the public through tax money. Other works which were commissioned by businesses and private enterprises have been around so long that they have become a permanent part of the neighborhood in which they are located. Most have been arguably installed without consideration for their long-term maintenance.

Cultural heritage professionals have thus begun to ask the public to help take care of “their” cultural heritage through public participation projects. In the United States, one sees for example, adopt-a-sculpture type projects in which the public is educated about works outdoors and invited to assist in their conservation and preservation under the expert guidance of a conservation professional. An early example of such a program was “Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) (1990-1999)” (see for example, Mossfelder, n.d.; Smithsonian Art Museum, n.d.), in which nearly 7,000 trained volunteers photographed, and documented the history and condition of nearly 32,000 outdoor sculptures across the United States.

However well-meaning such projects are, they are almost always initiated and organized top-down. They are based on the professionals’ perceived notion that they as experts are properly trained and have the experience and expertise to know better what is artistic and culturally and/or historically important for the public than the public itself. The promulgation of this “authorized heritage discourse” as discussed by Laurajane Smith (2006) fails to consider or accept how the general public feels about and perceives the art and objects in their neighborhood. Decisions about the commissioning, placement and conservation of art in public spaces are almost always made by professionals, who then become surprised, irritated and defensive when members of the general public express their anger, see for example Editors (2019). It is not uncommon for one to hear a heritage professional imply or claim outright that what the public thinks cannot possibly be good. Heritage professionals assume that if they “teach” the public to treasure such objects of “their” heritage, the public will become more proactive in helping conserve them. This issue has been the subject of considerable debate for years, see for example the discussions in Knoede (2010), Heineman (2008), and Tepper (2011).

The authors of this paper are conducting research on public perception and participation in the conservation of outdoor post-WWII cultural heritage. The objective of the research is to better understand how the general public feels about cultural heritage in their neighborhoods, how it values it, and why. This opinion piece discusses the results of three initial case studies which have been carried out by the authors. The results indicate that there are three “value moments” when the public directly or indirectly voices their opinions. These are: the moment an object is placed or designated as cultural heritage, its “lifetime” on location, and the moment when a significant change to the object is planned or carried out. It is argued that professionals must be willing to seriously consider and accept as valid, public feelings about cultural heritage objects in their neighborhoods, especially at these “value moments”. It is suggested that the role of the professional must change from that of decision-maker to that of expert advisor to the decision-makers who include the general public. Only by doing so can cultural heritage professionals truly preserve cultural heritage for the people and generations for whom they claim they are preserving it.

Methodology

The following three cultural heritage objects were selected for the first case studies of the research project. They were considered to be typical cultural heritage objects each of which has been at its current location for at least a quarter of a century, and is continuously exposed to the general public. Each has also been “threatened” by change in the past or is under consideration for major change in the near to mid-term. The three objects are described in the following paragraphs along with the methodology which was used to determine the general public’s opinion about them.

1. Works of art made of concrete by the Dutch/Frisian artist, Jaap van der Meij

Jaap van der Meij (1923-1999) was a Dutch/Frisian artist well-known for monumental concrete sculptures and building façades made in the post-WWII reconstruction period. Many of these can still be found in the northern provinces of The Netherlands, such as Friesland and Groningen. However, many have been lost to construction projects or stand neglected.

In 2016, a multi-year research project, “Kunst met een opdracht” (“Art with a mission”; Betten et al., 2017), was organized by the second author, curator Hanneke Heerema, to study the development of appreciation for art in public spaces, including works by Van der Meij. Partners included a number of cultural heritage parties led by Tresoar, a public institution for the preservation of Frisian history and culture, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) for whom the first author works, and several provincial cultural heritage organizations and museums.

The objective of this program was to determine how the public can develop a sense of co-ownership and thus become involved with the preservation of art in their neighborhoods.

For this paper, two of the objects studied were selected, both by Van der Meij, “De Aardschotel” (“The Earth Saucer”), 1974, Fig. 1, and “Loerbol” (“Spying Ball”), 1971, Fig. 2. Striking differences between the perception of outdoor art by cultural heritage professionals and that of the general public arose when attempts were made to conserve them. The discussion of these differences in this paper is based on a project evaluation led by the second author and others.

Figure 1. “De Aardschotel” (English: The Earth Saucer) by Jaap van der Meij. (Photo: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Aardschotel.jpg; by Ytzen, used under Creative Commons License)
Figure 1. “De Aardschotel” (English: The Earth Saucer) by Jaap van der Meij. (Photo: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Aardschotel.jpg; by Ytzen, used under Creative Commons License)
Figure 2. Archive photograph of the “Loerbol” (1971) by Jaap van der Meij in front of Het Cementrum. “Loerbol” was originally commissioned by Eerste Nederlandse Cement Industrie (ENCI) for an exhibition in the town of Schaarsbergen. (Photo: Hans Zoete)
Figure 2. Archive photograph of the “Loerbol” (1971) by Jaap van der Meij in front of Het Cementrum. “Loerbol” was originally commissioned by Eerste Nederlandse Cement Industrie (ENCI) for an exhibition in the town of Schaarsbergen. (Photo: Hans Zoete)

2. Mosaic by the American artist, Richard Haas (1937)

The mosaic is located in a busy residential district in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, far from tourist sites and near the third author’s studio. It was installed in 1989 on the second-floor level of the façade of a commercial building at 108-36 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills which now houses a branch of the TD Bank, see Fig. 3. The mosaic and façade curve around the busy corner of 71st Road and Queens Boulevard. The mosaic depicts an aerial view of New York City looking west from the Forest Hills train station, over Queens and Brooklyn, and ending with the New York City skyline in the background. The top half of the mosaic is framed with a number of landmark residences.

Figure 3. Photograph of a mosaic made by Richard Haas, located on the façade of the TD Bank in Queens, New York City. (Photo: Ida van der Lee)
Figure 3. Photograph of a mosaic made by Richard Haas, located on the façade of the TD Bank in Queens, New York City. (Photo: Ida van der Lee)

This work was selected as a typical example of a work of art commissioned for a commercial building in the shopping area of a residential city district. It was also selected to provide an initial comparison of possible differences between how the “general public” views cultural heritage objects in two different Western cultures, that of the United States in this case study, and The Netherlands in the first case study.

In this brief study, three interviewers stood for four hours on the corner in front of the building from around 10 AM to 2 PM on a cold but sunny and busy Sunday, November 12, 2017. Passersby were asked if they were willing to look at a 7.5 x 7.5 cm color photocopy of the mosaic and tell what they thought about the work, what they saw, whether they recognized the work, and whether they were residents of the neighborhood and for how long. These short interviews were carried out based on techniques used for interviewing contemporary artists (Beerkens, 2012). Such techniques avoid the formality of rigorously following a list of survey/interview questions, but ensure that the specific questions are answered early in the contact to avoid steering the answers. All answers as well as other comments were written down by hand by the interviewers on a simple paper form.

If the interviewer found the opportunity to ask, respondents were also asked for simple demographic information (gender, ethnicity/race, age). In most cases, this information was estimated by the interviewers, who, for this study, considered that the comfort of the subjects outweighed the imprecision of estimating ethnicity and age. No other personal information was requested nor recorded. Therefore, none of the answers can be traced to any particular respondent. For the purposes of this paper, this information is not considered relevant and will not be discussed further.

3. Amstelpark in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Amstelpark is a large city park, approximately 600,000 square meters, situated on the west bank of the Amstel River, see Fig. 4, several kilometers south of the city center, just outside of the A10 expressway ring. It has its origins in the 17th century when the rich looking to escape the pressure of the city of Amsterdam had summer residences there. In 1972, the International Horticultural show, Floriade, was held there. Many exotic plants from around the world were planted there along with the construction of concomitant exhibition halls, pathways and other facilities for the public.

Figure 4. Google® map of the Amstelpark in Amsterdam. North-south runs horizontally in this image. The Park is bound by the Amstel River to the East (top of image), the A10 expressway to the North (left side of image), and a broad boulevard to the West (bottom of image). The Glazen Huis art center is circle in the middle of the park.
Figure 4. Google® map of the Amstelpark in Amsterdam. North-south runs horizontally in this image. The Park is bound by the Amstel River to the East (top of image), the A10 expressway to the North (left side of image), and a broad boulevard to the West (bottom of image). The Glazen Huis art center is circle in the middle of the park.

Since that time, the area was converted into a city park where many of the plants and structures from the Floriade still remain, see Fig. 5. Activities for all ages can be found in the northern half of the park (more open park structure in the left half of Fig. 4) including, playgrounds, petting zoo, cafés, an electric train and original Floriade structures. The southern half of the park (right half of Fig. 4) is quieter, featuring original walkways through various flowers and natural settings based on the original Floriade. A number of permanent outdoor sculptures have also been placed at various locations in the park. A glass exhibition structure, the “Glazen Huis” (Glass House), is located roughly between the two halves of the park. It is operated by an artist group which organizes various art exhibitions and activities to promote visual art in the park. It is noted that the park is separated from the surrounding neighborhood by a broad four lane boulevard with medial strip, which poses a subconscious border for the residents.

Figure 5. Typical views of Amstelpark, Amsterdam (Photos: W. Wei, RCE)
Figure 5. Typical views of Amstelpark, Amsterdam (Photos: W. Wei, RCE)

The Amstelpark was selected for the research project discussed in this paper because it provides an opportunity to investigate the opinions of the general public, as compared to professionals, of two cultural heritage objects at one time, the park as a heritage landscape, and the works of art placed in it. This research was conducted within the framework of an artists’, thus professionals’, project, “Exploded View”, to compare the history of two heritage parks with completely different backgrounds-- the Amstelpark, a young park, and the Parco Regionale Appia Antica in Rome which has a history going back to ancient Rome, and to develop artistic visions for their future, see Kersten (n.d.). In the case of the Amstelpark, the artists were responding to a perceived threat that the city of Amsterdam plans to sacrifice parts of the park to help alleviate city crowding. In addition, local artists have also been asking the municipal authorities to expand programs for visual arts in the park.

Through the first author, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands conducted a study on what visitors and nearby residents think about the Amstelpark. A formal survey was prepared and carried out in Dutch and English using the commercial SurveyMonkey® web-facility. The survey consisted of a number of open questions about the respondents’ view of the park including:

  • When and why they visit(ed) the park

  • One question about what they knew about the history of the park

  • How they feel when they are in the park

  • What their favorite location(s) and activities are in the park and why

  • What they like and/or dislike about the park, and why

  • What they think the park means or should mean for the city of Amsterdam

  • What would they like have changed in the park and why.

Except for the single question about the history of the park, the questions were designed to determine what visitors think and feel about the park, and purposely avoid mentioning the art in the park or any cultural heritage values. In this way, expression of public awareness of those two subjects would come up on its own.

Flyers with the link to the survey were distributed in mailboxes of apartment complexes and homes directly across the main road separating the park from the city, and in two neighborhoods roughly one kilometer away. Demographic information including gender, age, profession and education and where the respondent lived in relationship to the park in terms of neighborhood or distance from the park was also requested. At the end of the survey, respondents could voluntarily provide an e-mail address for one time use in order to send them the results of the survey. This information is being treated according to the privacy laws of The Netherlands. Beyond this information, there is no way that answers can be coupled to a specific individual. The answers to the open questions were analyzed by coding the textual answers in terms of the types of activities the respondents mentioned, and their feelings and emotions when they visit(ed) the park.

Results

1. Works of art made of concrete by the Dutch/Frisian artist, Jaap van der Meij

The plans for conserving the two objects, “De Aardschotel and”Loerbol" met with stiff resistance from members of the general public. The cultural heritage professionals did not see this coming. “De Aardschotel”, Fig. 1, is a concrete dish around eight meters in diameter and one meter high with various images carved within the saucer form. The work was placed in a residential area which includes a residence for the elderly in the Frisian village of Ureterp. It soon became a hangout for youth who were a constant source of irritation for residents, leaving their litter in and around the work. At some point, the residents filled the work with soil, making a large planter out of it. This was a successful solution for the problem with the neighborhood youth, and it remained this way until 2016.

In 2016, the partners of the “Kunst met een opdracht” project decided to enlist local support to remove all of the plants and soil and restore the work to its original state. This idea was met with stiff resistance, in particular, from one local resident who convinced her neighbors not to cooperate because she was afraid the sculpture would again serve as a youth hangout. Things only got worse when the project organizers tried to enlist children from the local school to help with the cleanup. This was seen as an attempt to work around the parents who were against the project, and resulted in a predictable response. On the day that was planned for the work, no one showed up except the city council member responsible for culture, the project group, the local press and a team making a documentary about public participation and art in public places. The people who came did clean and free up the outer rim of the work, but the garden in the saucer was left in place.

“Loerbol”, Fig. 2, stood neglected on the grounds of an abandoned office building of a cement manufacturer, ECNI, in the Dutch city of ’s Hertogenbosch. A plan had been made to relocate it to the coastal Dutch island of Ameland where Van der Meij had once lived and worked, and where his parents came from. Although the local population of Ameland was interested, the local administration was not. Furthermore, two local cultural heritage professionals in ’s Hertogenbosch strongly protested moving that important piece of cultural heritage, although it had stood there forgotten for years. With all of the controversy, the sculpture remains in its current location.

2. Mosaic by the American artist, Richard Haas (1937)

106 people participated in the on-site interviews including five employees of the bank on which the mosaic was located. Approximately 70 people declined the invitation to speak with the interviewers. Most of the respondents were residents (83) or worked or went to church in the neighborhood (13). The response was thus representative of the general residential public.

The responses to the question as to whether they recognized the work, and their responses when the work was actually pointed out are summarized in Table 1. Of particular interest is the fact that, while fourteen respondents from the total of 106 recognized the content of the mosaic, only four of those actually knew that the mosaic was mounted above their heads. Roughly half of the participants had a favorable response to the work after having it pointed out to them, while the others either had no comment or talked about other things. 15 people considered the work worth preserving, but it is noted that this response was given in the course of the conversation following questioning, and is therefore not included in the summary table.

Table 1. Responses of 106 participants with respect to recognition of mosaic by Richard Haas
ResponseNumber of people responding this way
Direct answer to recognition question*  
Recognized mosaic 30 
Recognized the content of the mosaic 13 
Knew that the mosaic was above them 
Did not recognize the mosaic 70 
   
Responses when real work was pointed out*  
Smiled / surprised 24 
“Darn, I should look (up) more often!” 12 
Found the mosaic interesting / nice / appreciated it 20 
Other discussion 13 
No comments 42 
ResponseNumber of people responding this way
Direct answer to recognition question*  
Recognized mosaic 30 
Recognized the content of the mosaic 13 
Knew that the mosaic was above them 
Did not recognize the mosaic 70 
   
Responses when real work was pointed out*  
Smiled / surprised 24 
“Darn, I should look (up) more often!” 12 
Found the mosaic interesting / nice / appreciated it 20 
Other discussion 13 
No comments 42 

* The total number of responses does not account for several people who gave more than one of the responses listed in the first column.

3. Amstelpark in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

960 survey links were distributed between Sept. 2018 and March 2019. 71 surveys were completed on-line. For a mass distribution as conducted here, this low percentage of responses was to be expected. 67 of the respondents lived within walking distance of the park. Six answered the survey in English. Four respondents live elsewhere in The Netherlands. The results are therefore representative of neighborhood residents who use the park.

The results of the surveys indicate that virtually no one looks at the park as cultural heritage. In fact, with the exception of one person, no one knew any more about the history of the park than that it had been the site of the Floriade. Only one person mentioned the terms “art” or “cultural heritage”- and that was to mention the Glazen Huis and express a wish for more art in the park.

The results show a distinct dichotomy among visitors to the park as to how they view “their” park. One group is more active in terms of taking children to the playground facilities, petting zoo and riding the miniature train, visiting the café/restaurant facilities, and/or taking part in major events such as fairs and music festivals which are organized during the warmer seasons. This group tends to frequent the northern half of the park where those activities are to be found (left half of the map in Fig. 4). Many of the members of this group would like to have the opportunity for more activities, including barbequing and bicycle riding-- both activities which are, at the moment, forbidden. The other group of visitors prefers the beauty and solitude of the flora of the southern half of the park (right half of map in Fig. 4). This group includes senior citizens looking for peace and quiet and many middle-aged working citizens. Not surprisingly, many members of this group are irritated by the increasing number of festivals being held in the park and the lack of control exercised over illegal bicycle riding and free-running dogs. Members of both groups do agree that the park is an important place where residents of Amsterdam go to get away from the pressure of the city and should be maintained as such. In that sense, they do see the cultural and social value of the park, as opposed to the cultural heritage or historical aspects.

Discussion

The results of the three case studies on the public perception and awareness of works of art and cultural heritage in public places indicate that the general public is not consciously aware of such objects in their neighborhood as they go about their daily lives. The project to preserve concrete sculptures by Jaap van der Meij, which are perfectly visible to the public, was started in large part by cultural heritage professionals because of the perceived neglect of their conservation. This already says something about public and municipal awareness of their presence as works of art. The fact that the mosaic by Richard Haas was right over the heads of residents in Queens caught almost all of the respondents in the Queen survey by surprise. Visitors to the Amstelpark were not aware that they were interacting with what professionals consider to be cultural heritage. Their answers to questions about what they thought about the park and how they feel in it reflected their use of the park. Only one person claimed to know about the history of the location before the Floriade, but did not go into detail.

Although there seems to be a sort of public ambivalence to these objects, it was found that the threat of a change in the situation often resulted in emotional reactions, especially when the public felt that a decision had been made without consulting them. In the case of the work, “De Aardschotel”, a single person convinced her neighbors to boycott the efforts of cultural heritage professionals to liberate the work from its planter function and return it to its original function as a work of art. This case is peculiar in the sense that this was not a reaction to a radical change to a public work of art or its removal, but to returning it to being a work of art. The public’s problem was that a decision had been made to undo a decision that the residents themselves had made about the work.

In the case of the Richard Haas mosaic, during research into the history of the object, it was found that the object had once been threatened with demolition. In the mid-2000s, a prospective commercial tenant wanted to demolish the mosaic in order to have the building façade fit with that company’s house style (Perlman, 2014). However, the landlord felt that the mosaic belonged to the community and decided to lease the building to another entity. Interviews with specific residents who belonged to the local historical organization indicated that they were pleased with that decision.

Finally, in the case of the Amstelpark, an art project, “Exploded View”, was organized so that artists, that is, professionals, could provide possible solutions for the future of that park (as well as for a park in Rome). This was based on a perceived threat to the park, which lies on the edge of a city with population growth problems and is thus a potential target for developers. The solutions which artists are working on at the moment deal mostly with the park as a landscape in the broadest sense of the term, theoretical issues of the interaction of humans with nature, protecting nature and the environment, and the park’s history.

However, the results of the surveys show that residents and other visitors do not think of the Amstelpark in that way. It is seen as a place for either active or passive recreation, and there is no awareness of the history of the place aside from it being the site of one of the first Floriades in the country. Suggestions were made by the survey respondents for improvements and changes in the park, but no one thought in terms of a park with a history or, with one exception, in terms of art. That exception was one bridge over a canal into the park, which is very steep and difficult for physically handicapped people and the elderly to access. It was actually designed as a functioning work of art, which none of the respondents knew.

What can be seen in these three seemingly different cases are three phases or moments in the “life cycle” of a cultural heritage object in a public space when the general public clearly expresses their thoughts and feelings on the value of a cultural heritage object, see Table 2. The term “value” is used here in the broadest sense of the term. It is not just financial or artistic value, however those values might be determined. The term also covers the emotional attachment or feeling of ownership the public may have for that object in their neighborhood. The members of the broad group known as the “general public” refers to “everyone”, which also means that it can include the few cultural heritage professionals who are residents in the neighborhood where the object is located.

Table 2. Value moments for objects of art and cultural heritage in public places
ObjectValue Moment 1 – PlacementValue Moment 2 – Daily LifeValue Moment 3 – Radical change
Richard Haas mosaic in Queens Public opinion unknown Few people notice it Earlier, tenant wanted to demolish it: landlord rejected proposal and preserved it 
Concrete works by Jaap van der Meij  Aardschotel: Used by residents as a planter Loerbol: Public opinion unknown; commissioned for factory on private land  Works generally unnoticed, neglected  Aardschotel: Local resident leads successful drive to maintain planter function Loerbol: controversy leaves object in its current location  
Amstelpark Public opinion unknown when Floriade terrain designated as city park Large city park used by two main groups of residents, seeking activities or stillness; no mention of cultural heritage of works of art in park Perceived by artists; no changes actually planned at the moment 
ObjectValue Moment 1 – PlacementValue Moment 2 – Daily LifeValue Moment 3 – Radical change
Richard Haas mosaic in Queens Public opinion unknown Few people notice it Earlier, tenant wanted to demolish it: landlord rejected proposal and preserved it 
Concrete works by Jaap van der Meij  Aardschotel: Used by residents as a planter Loerbol: Public opinion unknown; commissioned for factory on private land  Works generally unnoticed, neglected  Aardschotel: Local resident leads successful drive to maintain planter function Loerbol: controversy leaves object in its current location  
Amstelpark Public opinion unknown when Floriade terrain designated as city park Large city park used by two main groups of residents, seeking activities or stillness; no mention of cultural heritage of works of art in park Perceived by artists; no changes actually planned at the moment 

The first Value Moment occurs when the original decision is made by some professional authority to commission and install an object, or, in the case of the Amstelpark, to designate it and treat it as a city park after the Floriade ended. Such authorities are often perceived as an “elite” group of art or cultural heritage experts who decide, for example, what work of art should be placed in a municipality or what post World War II Reconstruction Era structure should be designated national cultural heritage. The local public may be consulted, but the decision is always made at the committee level or above.

For the three cases discussed in this paper, information could only be found for "De Aardschotel" about how the general public reacted to the initial decision to put the sculpture there, that is to convert the work of art into a planter. That type of negative reaction has the same roots as reactions evoked by the recent commissioning of other works of art in public places, decisions made by expert committees with little or no consultation with the public. Examples include the installation of Jeff Koons’ “Bouquet of Tulips” (2019) on the grounds of the Petit Palais in Paris which many residents considered ugly, and the installation during the Milan Design Week of Gaetano Pesce’s “Maestà Sofferente” (2019) which was supposed to promote respect for women, but instead drew huge protests from the public who found that it did exactly the opposite (Hakim Bishara, 2019; Small, 2019; links in Editors, 2019).

Once the dust settles and time goes by, the objects become part of daily life, Value Moment 2. Those who almost literally live right on top of the object no longer interact with it as a cultural heritage object, and thus have no conscious value judgement about the work and exhibit no emotional attachment to it. In all three case studies, the general public was interviewed at a time when an object had become part of their daily lives. The Richard Haas mosaic was barely noticed, the Jaap van der Meij works were indeed forgotten and neglected (in broad daylight), and visitors to the Amstelpark thought of it as a recreation area and not a historic landscape with works of art.

However, this indifference changes radically when something threatens the existence of the object, Value Moment 3. The threat of the demolition of the mosaic by Richard Haas or the relocation of “Loerbol” by Jaap van der Meij are clear examples of this. The threat of a change to the function of “De Aardschotel” is also radical. In each case, the reaction did not necessarily come from the general public as a whole, but from individual “watchdogs”, as it were, who then warned the public that something bad was about to happen.

Who those watchdogs were and what their motivation was has been shown in the case studies to vary greatly. However, in all three cases, public opinion was badly misread by cultural heritage professionals. The protest against the reestablishment of “De Aardschotel” as a work of art is an example of the public exercising decision-making power against a project group which assumed that everyone would find it important to have works of art in the neighborhood. In the case of the “Loerbol”, the residents of Ameland where the work was to be moved supported the decision. However, the mayor blocked the move, and two local residents in ’s Hertogenbosch who were also cultural heritage professionals protested the plans to move the work. The Amstelpark is not under immediate threat, but the artists who organized the “Exploded View” project perceived a long-term threat to its existence.

The reader may have heard of another misreading of the general public’s opinion and wishes involving the designation of the Dresden, Germany, Elbe River valley as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In spite of “warnings” from cultural heritage professionals that the city’s reputation would be ruined by it, city residents voted to have a bridge, the Waldschlösschen Bridge, built over the river directly into the city to reduce traffic congestion (Abramsohn, 2009). Because of this, UNESCO removed Dresden from its world heritage list. A survey of residents seemed to show that a majority did not find that to be an issue.

The case studies described in this paper clearly show an ever-growing distance between cultural heritage professionals and the general public who they believe they are serving. We argue that if cultural heritage professionals really want to preserve cultural heritage for future generations of society, that is, the “general public”, it is time for those professionals to take public perceptions and opinions seriously. There is movement in this direction, begun by cultural heritage professionals such as the previously mentioned LauraJane Smith who urged the cultural heritage profession to accept that the public should have an important say in what its heritage is. More recently, a June 2019 ICOMOS-sponsored meeting on cultural heritage management held in Amsterdam (Munawar & Rydén, 2019), looked at the oft repeated statement that “we” (the professionals) are preserving cultural heritage for future generations. Questions posed at the meeting included: What should be preserved? Why? And for which future generations? In her presentation, Sarah May of Swansea University warned against “infantilizing” future generations by claiming that without our work there will be no heritage for them, in short, deciding that each generation does not have the right or the expertise to choose for themselves. In his book, “The Intimate Philosophy of Art”, John Armstrong argues for the primacy of the individual against the specialist saying that how visitors experience a work of art should be a personal and innocent experience, not something forced upon them by art historians (Breeuwsma, 2001). We argue thus that cultural heritage professionals must learn to embrace the changing role of their profession from an often self-appointed decision-making role to the expert advisor to the decision-makers who include the general public.

Contributions

Contributed to conception and design: WW, HH, RR

Contributed to acquisition of data: WW, HH, RR, IvdL

Contributed to analysis and interpretation of data: WW, HH

Drafted and/or revised the article: WW, HH, RR

Approved the submitted version for publication: WW, HH, RR

Acknowledgements

The authors greatly appreciate the critical comments of the reviewers which helped bring a better focus to our work and to this article. Funding for the work discussed in this paper was provided in part by Tresoar (Leeuwaarden, The Netherlands) for H. Heerema, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands for W. Wei.

Funding Information

Tresoar, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands for HH

Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands for WW

Competing Interests

The authors have no competing interests to disclose.

Data accessibility statement

All data for the Richard Haas mosaic and Amstelpark case studies are available upon reasonable request from the principal author, W. Wei, b.wei@cultureelerfgoed.nl. The Jaap van der Meij case study does not have data in the sense of the term as used for open source publication.

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