Comparative Showcases
Arts and culture
Preserving Culture


The preservation of culture is a topic that concerns various countries in Europe, as evidenced by the selection of items on the topic of 'Arts and Culture'.


In particular, problems of conservation and the costs of preserving and maintaining cultural artefacts have been featured in European news and documentary programming throughout the years. In the late 1980s, the BBC news aired a Peter Mayne report about a protest held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London against the voluntary entry charges for visitors of the museum (BBC, 1987). One of the protesters refusing to pay is actor and film screenwriter Colin Welland, who states that, as a tax payer, it is totally wrong to pay for 'what is already mine'. Roy Strong, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, is also interviewed about the charges. He defends the solution, stating that the museum is in need of extra money and that the solution of a voluntary contribution, which will be administered fairly and sensitively, is found very reasonable.


That same year, Joan Bakewell reports in 'Newsnight' to audiences how large the British Library collection is, and investigates the problems of storage that the British Library has to deal with (BBC, 1987). Being a copyright library, the British Library receives a copy of each book published,  occupying a shelf space the distance from London to Edinburgh – with a continuous growth of 8 miles per year.  At the time of broadcast, the British Library collection is housed in nineteen different sites around London. For customers, the large collection can cause very long waits for book orders and in an interview, author Margaret Drabble states that sometimes even materials never show up. The reporter also looks at the problems of preserving the collection. Dr. Clements, head of preservation, talks about the major problem of conservation: books deteriorate as a result of high temperature levels, high humidity levels and the accumulation of the pollution in the atmosphere, leading to problems of brittle paper and bookworm.


The Dutch documentary 'Worth Preserving' (S&V, 1987) illustrates the problems surrounding the conservation and restoration of film and videotapes, as well as preservation policies for the future. An overview is given of the content of the Polygoon (newsreels) archive and the Dutch broadcast archive (NOB). The collection includes more than 2 million meters of nitrate film, which needs to be copied within the next ten years or so before the material decomposes. In addition, nitrate film is dangerous to preserve because it is highly flammable, as is demonstrated. It is emphasized that Ampex-tapes need to be copied to the current video format before they lose their magnetic information – otherwise, historical and significant moments in television history will be lost for good. The documentary shows that film and video conservation is a time-consuming process, but demonstrates how new techniques like 'wet printing' can turn a flammable nitrate film into an undamaged, non-flammable copy.


Various television news programmes have also investigated how our cultural environment in general, and specific heritage sites and cultural artefacts in particular, are being retained for the future. In Denmark, 'TV News: Art' (DR, 1982) reports that one of Denmark's greatest private art collections is being donated to the Glyptoteket Museum in Copenhagen, completely free of charge. Furthermore, the report states that the donor, Erik Andreasen, is pleased that the collection will be preserved for future generations. In Germany, the news programme 'Germany Live: Preservation of industrial monuments in the Ruhr Area' (DW, 1999) illustrates the preservation of industrial buildings in the Ruhr Area. The programme discusses the use of engine rooms and building sites as a museum. In this manner, the preserved industrial monuments (mines, factories and production plants) can function as historical evidence of Germany's building industry for the future generation. The reporter demonstrates that visiting the heritage site with its monumental constructions is an extraordinary experience for school classes. In addition, the German news programme 'People and Politics: Protection of cultural heritage' (DW, 2006) reports in 2006 that the Federal government aims at implementing the UNESCO agreement on cultural heritage from 1970. A French news report titled 'Latvian chants' (INA, 2004) pays attention to chants (or dainas) in the Baltic countries. In Latvia, chants were an instrument of defense against Soviet invaders, and they helped to salvage the traditional culture, language and religion. Today, the Latvian chants are still sung throughout the country. Finally, the Catalonian news programme 'Living with Risk: A Matter of Balance' (TVC, 2004) analyses the balance between the development and preservation of the environment, with special emphasis on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, demography, technology and pollution. An analysis of sustainability is given, using statements by experts from various fields, ranging from Joandomènec Ros, Professor of Ecology, University of Barcelona to Eudald Carbonell, Professor of Pre-history, Rovira i Virgili University and Bernardo Kügler, Professor of Economy and Business, Pompeu Fabra University. Additionally, the report is illustrated with images of lifestyles and energy consumption around the world, ranging from the re-creation of lighting a fire in pre-history to urban traffic in the 19th and 21st century.


The Catalonian documentary series 'The Vanishing Past' (TVC, 1997) takes a somewhat different approach, as this programme not only showcases how cultural legacies are used today, but also how cultural legacies of different Mediterranean civilizations are abused or abandoned. The series consists of six journeys from present to past through parts of the world with different social, historical and cultural backgrounds. For example, the episode 'The Vanishing Past: Balkans' (TVC, 1997) concentrates on Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Macedonia and investigates the destruction of artistic and monumental legacies in these countries during the war in former Yugoslavia. The episode 'The Vanishing Past: Greece' (TVC, 1997) focuses on continental Greece, Crete and Rhodes and examines the great archaeological myths of Western civilization. As a result, the progressive deterioration of the artistic legacy of different Mediterranean civilizations is analysed.


Documentaries and news reports also demonstrate national concerns with the population's (lack of) cultural knowledge, particularly where young people are concerned. For instance, in the early 1970s, the Italian news report 'The book, an unknown object' (IL, 1971) shows that Italians do not read very much. Weighing itself against Sweden, a country in which 8 million inhabitants buy 4.5 million newspapers every day, the programme reports that in Italy, 54 million inhabitants buy 'only' 5 million newspapers. And in 2004, acclaimed writer Hella Haasse discusses the poor cultural knowledge of the Dutch general population in the documentary programme 'The Hour of the Wolf: The fourth life, conversations with Hella Haasse' (S&V, 2004). However, television programmes also present possible answers to such concerns. For example in the aforementioned Italian news report 'The book, an unknown object' (IL, 1971), the New National Library in Rome is presented as an answer to a new search for culture amongst young people, given the fact that more young people go to public libraries than in the past, and are looking for critical tools to find answers to their questions. Another example is developments in children's television. In Belgium, a cultural programme was specially created for schools, meant for being watched in the classroom with the teacher and pupils/students. In the episode 'School TV: What is surrealism?' (RTBF, 1973), Philippe Soupault gives information about the meaning of surrealism in literature, and what this movement brought to art. The programme was aired from 1962 to 1990.


To conclude, European television programming showcases cultural heritage sites, cultural artefacts and (archival) materials, that are, in more than one sense of the word, worth preserving. Beginning with film library footages concerning the flood in Florence, an Italian documentary reconstructs how an exhibition of masterpieces restored after the catastrophe has been organized in Milan (IL, 1971). Furthermore, the Italian documentary 'Carlo Carrà: A life devoted to art' (IL, 1993) reconstructs Carlo Carrà's artistic life by means of film library footage, showing shots of his works and an interview with Carrà's son Massimo, who tells his father's life story while the camera films parts of the house where the painter lived. In Hungary, a three part documentary presents the authentic folk recordings collected by the two celebrated Hungarian composers Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. The first part of the documentary, 'The recordings of Kodály and Bartók in Felvidék (Upper Hungary)' (NAVA, 2007), assesses the situation of folk music treasures in the region of Upper Hungary, where these two great researchers of Hungarian folk traditions collected most of their recordings. Finally, in the Netherlands, the historical documentary programme 'Andere Tijden' (S&V, 2000) presents unique footage of The Beatles which had never been aired before.


Finally, these materials also showcase the role of Video Active as a preserving practise for cultural heritage, both building upon and facilitating access to television's cultural heritage.


Berber Hagedoorn