An innovative multi-nation project entitled: Expanding the Socio-Economic Value of Cultural Heritage in the Caribbean, is now being implemented across the region by the Department of Economic Development of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Funded by the United States Permanent Mission to the OAS, under the direction of Chief of the OAS??? Tourism and Culture Section, Richard Campbell, and Technical Project Manager, Celia Toppin, the project seeks to involve communities throughout the region in identifying untapped cultural heritage resources and to develop new tools for monitoring and incentivising their protection.

It is aimed at building the capacity of 14 OAS Member States: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, with Haiti as an observer.

According to the OAS, the overall goal of the project is ???to contribute to expanding the socio-economic benefits of regional Cultural Heritage as valuable, non-renewable, multi-component, and multi-stakeholder public resources through a new paradigm of public/private partnerships and engagement of stakeholder communities???.

The project will be based at the University of the West Indies, and will be administered by an Advisory Board headed by the interim Director, Dr. Sabrina Rampersad. Focal Point in Barbados??? Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Sheron Johnson, is the interim Secretary for the Advisory Board.

At the opening session of a series of workshops held here in April this year, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, Stephen Lashley, underscored the importance of cultural heritage to the diversity of economies in the Caribbean, as well as the importance of the project.

Chief of the OAS??? Culture and Tourism Section, Richard Campbell, added: ???It is important that we explore all opportunities to recognise the role and contribution of Cultural Heritage to development in our communities and economies. Through this initiative, the OAS is making a significant investment to support the efforts in member states to develop and utilise the untapped social and economic potential of the Cultural Heritage of the region.???

Five project components are currently being implemented as pilot activities, in response to the priorities that were earlier identified through a broad consultation process with heritage specialists throughout the region.

These are capacity-sharing, through region-wide, specialised networks of heritage professionals, cultural custodians, traditional crafts practitioners, and researchers; protective legislation, through the review of each country???s current legislation on heritage protection and the provision of financial incentives by a team of internationally-recognised legal experts; and securing the establishment of effective and comprehensive national registers.

Also included are a public-private, community-based heritage tourism model currently being formulated and tested in Grenada; and an evaluation of existing heritage courses and programmes at educational institutions throughout the region. This is aimed at identifying curricular gaps and developing a process of offering online courses through the University of the West Indies Open Campus to serve the needs of students, as well as mid-career professionals throughout the region.

Author: Jamal Weekes/OAS

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