Culture in Crisis

The V&A is an international organisation with collections from around the globe. We are committed to protecting the world's cultural heritage and supporting communities that suffer cultural loss, whether through conflict, criminal acts or natural disaster. Our Culture in Crisis programme brings together those with a shared interest in protecting cultural heritage, providing a forum for sharing information, inspiring and supporting action and raising public awareness.

We understand the impact of cultural heritage loss on communities and the contrasting positive role its preservation can have in rebuilding and recovering these areas following wars and disasters. As such we aim to encourage a cross-disciplinary approach, raising public awareness and working with organisations from a variety of backgrounds to take a holistic approach to the protection of heritage in all its forms.

We also work closely to support law-enforcement, nationally and internationally, and the British Armed forces to develop strategies to prevent the illicit trade of cultural goods.

Sign up to our mailing list for updates

Preservation by Design

Preservation by Design is an eight part series of recordings exploring 'designed solutions' to threats posed to our cultural heritage.

Drawing from a wide spectrum of different practitioners and the designed systems they are using, we look at the broader ecosystem of preservation efforts which are taking place around the globe. From the architectural design of cities to the formation of military units specifically responsible for protecting heritage in conflict zones; from cutting edge technologies for tracing looted antiquities to projects merging ancient craft and modern design processes, join us to learn more about the practitioners at the cutting edge of cultural heritage preservation today.

Searching for Nazi Spoliation: Provenance Research at the V&A

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection is pioneering provenance research at the V&A, with its dedicated Provenance and Spoliation Research Curator, Jacques Schuhmacher. Jacques is joined in the discussion by Alice Minter, Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection Curator, to discuss their progressive work. Exploring the development of the provenance research profession and its growing importance within museum practices, the speakers reveal the proactive steps they are taking to locate and remove Nazi-looted art from the collection.

As the demand from museum audiences for a richer and more nuanced understanding of historical objects grows, our speakers explore key issues such as; locating Nazi-looted objects in collections, legal and moral claims for restitution, how best to present research to audiences, and fitting provenance research into the curatorial practice.

Keeping Heritage Afloat: Reviving ancient boat building techniques in Iraq

Rashad Salim, Project Director of Safina Projects, is joined by Carine Harmand, Curator in the British Museum's Middle East Department, to discuss Rashad’s ongoing work to revive the ancient craft of boat building across Iraq.

For thousands of years boats have been integral symbols of national identity and heritage within the region, with unique designs evolving to suit the specific nature of different local cultures. Yet, over the past few decades, this knowledge has all but disappeared and the role of craft as a link between communities and their environment is greatly diminished. In the discussion, we hear about how Rashad’s work is not only reviving these millennia-old techniques, but also a whole social eco-system around them, too.

Safina Projects is a creative studio that works to protect and revive the endangered craft heritage of Iraq, particularly its maritime heritage and traditional boatmaking, through art and cultural research projects that engage the public in Iraq and internationally.

Weaving in Practice: Preserving Textile Crafts in Guatemala

Guatemalan artist, weaver and educator, Hellen Ascoli, is joined by Ana Baeza Ruiz, Researcher for the V&A's blockbuster exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making herself Up (16 June – 18 November 2018), to discuss Hellen's ongoing work to protect endangered textile heritage and weaving practices in her native country.

Taken directly from her experiences working alongside Guatemala's indigenous communities, Hellen shares her concerns about the appropriation and exploitation of this cultural traditional, which sits at the intersection of tangible and intangible heritage.

Together in this discussion, Ana and Hellen explore themes such as the role of the weaver as both a designer and a producer, the difficulties of 'preserving' a dynamic living culture, the international fashion market and exploitation, as well as Hellen's broader ambition to promote the continuation of the tradition of weaving in Guatemala, within a system that is fair to all.

Food for Thought

Sofia Casarin, Co-founder of TAMOA joins May Rosenthal Sloan, co-curator of the V&A's upcoming 2019 exhibition; Food: Bigger than the Plate to discuss the promotion and preservation of traditional heritage corn varieties in Mexico.

Working directly with local farmers, we hear how TAMOA is pushing against the grain of mass-importation of corn from the US to support local, sustainable production of traditional varieties of this Mexican staple.

Working to improve the livelihoods of rural communities, whilst simultaneously helping preserve a tradition of corn production in the region which stretches back 8000 years, we investigate the links between food, culture and identity in this engaging discussion.

Treasure Hunting in the UK

Dr Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure, at the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), joins Culture in Crisis International Coordinator, Laura Jones, to discuss the UK's rich archaeological heritage and the ways and means we go about exploring and protecting it.

Each year tens of thousands of important archaeological objects are discovered across the country by metal detectorists and other members of the public. The discussion explores the different groups involved, their different motivations for searching, and the different ways the PAS works with these people to ensure that this cultural treasure is not lost through looting or unconscious destruction.

Exploring some of the important treasure discoveries of the past 20 years, we will hear more about the valuable work of the PAS and their ongoing efforts to protect our shared heritage.

Recruiting the Modern Day Monuments Men ...and Women!

The V&A's Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security, Vernon Rapley, is joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Purbrick to discuss the reforming of the 'Monuments Men' unit within the British Armed Forces.

Not seen in active duty for over 70 years, the women and men of the historic (officially titled) 'Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives programme', worked to help protect cultural property in conflict zones during and after World War II.

Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, an Army Reservist and former tank commander during Desert Storm, is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group and has been working since early 2014 towards the return of this specialist unit to the frontline of the British Army.

Speaking directly with the man who coordinated the revival of this special unit, we discuss what has happened behind the scenes, along the road to redeployment

Bridging the Gap: Uniting Heritage Craft Skills with Digital Technologies

Donn Holohan, Fabrication Lab Manager in the Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong, is joined by Glenn Adamson, Curator of the Design Museum's 2017 Beazley Awards, to discuss Holohan's nominated project 'The Wind and Rain Bridge'. This remarkable construction blends historic craft practices with modern technology, preserving heritage skills and creating sustainable social and physical infrastructure in the Fujian province of China.

Working with rural communities striving for modern development, whilst simultaneously fighting to retain vestiges of their cultural heritage, in this exploration of evolving craft practices in rural China we discuss alternative modes of community redevelopment, sustainable materials and methods, and the negotiation between the pitfalls of dereliction and 'disney-fication' in these spaces.

The Architectural Impact of cities: Social Cohesion and Crisis in Syria

How do the cities we build influence the communities who live within them? Can conflict be built into the very fabric of our urban spaces? Syrian architect and author of 'The Battle for Home' Marwa al Sabouni is joined by Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent for the BBC, to discusses her experiences of living and working within Homs, throughout the Syrian conflict.

Marwa's has also written a powerful article 'Heritage under Reconstruction', in which she shares her ambitions and concerns for what reconstruction might entail in post-conflict Syria, as well as the lasting impact it could have for the future of her country.

Culture in Crisis conferences

Culture in Crisis: Industrial Heritage Summit

In July 2019, Culture in Crisis hosted the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage, convening the first-ever national summit to promote the value of the UK’s industrial heritage. The summit drew on the expertise of academics, developers, conservationists and archaeologists to explore best practice, exemplar case studies, and strategies, considering how best to draw on the UK’s industrial past and harness it for our economic future. Themes for discussion included: reuse of industrial buildings; presenting industrial heritage to the public; skilling the sector; public engagement; and tackling industrial heritage at risk. Based on the findings from this conference, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Heritage has been tasked with drawing up an action plan outlining practical next steps on how to harness potential and address challenges in the sector, which we will publish here in due course.

Culture in Crisis: Cross-disciplinary learning opportunities for natural and cultural heritage preservation

In October 2018, Culture in Crisis partnered with Yale's Global Cultural Heritage Initiatives and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, to convene a major international conference in collaboration with University of Pretoria, South Africa. The event had a unique focus on the benefits of both Wildlife and Heritage Conservation. The conference served to highlight the value of these two parallel branches of conservation; demonstrating that through their adoption successful sustainable development on national and international level can be achieved.

Culture in Crisis: The practical applications of digital reproduction in heritage preservation
During December 2017, the V&A's Culture in Crisis Programme, partnered with Yale Global Cultural Heritage Initiatives, presented a conference and workshop event to address the practical applications of digital reproduction in heritage preservation.

Culture in Crisis: Cultural heritage and wildlife conservation; cross-disciplinary learning (Kigali workshop)
During August 2016, the V&A's Culture in Crisis Programme and the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, in collaboration with the National Museums of Rwanda and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, organised a conference, held in Kigali, Rwanda, exploring the benefits of both cultural heritage and wildlife conservation practices within the post-conflict recovery of a nation. Looking at the social and economic benefits of these activities, the output of this conference will be the creation of 'road maps to recovery', which could be applied within more contemporaneous conflict zones.

Culture in Crisis II (Yale)
In April 2016, the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University, in collaboration with the V&A's Culture in Crisis Programme, under the patronage of UNESCO, hosted a satellite event to the UN Global Colloquium of University Presidents at Yale University. This conference focused on the ongoing destruction and loss of cultural heritage in North Africa and the Middle East, which is a cause for worldwide concern and condemnation, as well as the perceived impact of the exodus of people and talent from some parts of the region, resulting in the loss of cultural knowledge as well as local arts and crafts.

Culture in Crisis: Conflict and Cultural Heritage Conference
The V&A's Culture in Crisis Programme supported the Conflict and Cultural Heritage Conference at St John's College Auditorium, Oxford University in October 2015. This conference aimed to raise public awareness and develop an understanding of the issues surrounding the protection of cultural heritage at risk from armed conflict.

Culture in Crisis I (V&A)
On 14 April 2015 the V&A's Culture in Crisis Programme, in collaboration with Yale University's Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage and under the patronage of UNESCO, hosted an international conference to discuss the issue of 'Culture in Crisis'.



Our events series of talks and seminars bring together artists, designers, heritage workers, activists and many others to discuss cultural heritage preservation issues in relation to their own practices. Providing a dynamic and responsive platform to open up dialogue on these important and pressing issues, we invite you to join the conversation by attending one of our monthly free events.



The Culture in Crisis blog features new and exciting updates about the ongoing activities in the world of heritage preservation, revealing the valuable work of individuals and institutions we work alongside.