One of the biggest threats to the viability of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is posed by declining numbers of practitioners of traditional craftsmanship, music, dance or theatre, and of those who are in position to learn from them.
An effective way to safeguard ICH sustainably is to ensure that the bearers of that heritage continue to transmit their knowledge and skills to younger generations. In this regard, Article 2.3 of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage places transmission among the safeguarding measures aiming at ensuring the viability of this heritage. UNESCO also encourages States to establish national systems of “Living Human Treasures”. In this perspective, exemplary bearers of intangible cultural heritage are identified, among whom some are given official recognition and encouraged to continue to develop and transmit their knowledge and skills.
Living Human Treasures are persons who possess to a high degree the knowledge and skills required for performing or re-creating specific elements of the intangible cultural heritage. The Living Human Treasures programme aims at encouraging Member States to grant official recognition to talented tradition bearers and practitioners, thus contributing to the transmission of their knowledge and skills to the younger generations. States select such persons on the basis of their accomplishments and of their willingness to convey their knowledge and skills to others. The selection is also based on the value of the traditions and expressions concerned as a testimony of the human creative genius, their roots in cultural and social traditions, their representative character for a given community, as well as their risk of disappearance.
- The “Maître d’art” Pierre Meyer, turner of figures on ivory, with an apprentice
The establishment of a national Living Human Treasures system may also involve:
- adopting legal or regulatory provisions;
- identifying and including in one or more inventories the selected ICH elements as well as the names of their bearers;
- creating a commission of experts responsible for selecting candidates and for monitoring the implementation of the system, especially with regard to the transmission of knowledge and skills.
In order to facilitate the creation of new systems, UNESCO endeavours to assist Member States technically and/or financially through its regular budget, Participation Programme and extra-budgetary contributions by Member States. UNESCO offers recommended guidelines to implement Living Human Treasures systems (English|French|Spanish).