Last week, EU ministers of culture met in Paris to talk about an Erasmus programme for artisans’ apprentices, redistributing European funds to conserve the continent’s legacy and to design a coordinated response to disasters like the one that damaged the Notre Dame in Paris, where some works only survived thanks to a human chain that passed them to safety. Ministers were unanimous that improvements are needed and there were numerous ideas on the table. Although nothing can be formalised so close to the European Elections, they drew up a list of good intentions that will hopefully lead to specific measures and some institutional reshuffling is expected.
French minister of culture Franck Riester was pleased with the healthy turnout for the meeting in Paris, saying that “Today is a beautiful day for Europe, for culture and is a beautiful day for heritage, adding that “once again we see that since the drama we have experienced with the terrible fire in Notre Dame, we can take advantage of this opportunity to implement new public policies, a new solidarity in countries, and also in the EU”.
The good news is that enough money, more than 800 million euros, has already been pledged for to rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral, when the normal budget for restoring national monuments is usually about 300 million euros. The initial priority is to secure the vault, which has a massive hole in the centre after the spire collapsed during the fire. Other pressing tasks include removing melted statues that are weighing on fragile parts of the outer structure.
Regarding Europe’s cultural heritage, the Spanish minister, José Guirao believes that the long-term goal should be to create a specific fund for heritage conservation, and after the election, work will be done to quantify the available funds.
Behind the initiative is the idea that heritage is part of the identity of Europe, and the ministers also want to set up programmes for young people to encourage interest in the history of art and in artisan professions like restoration. One idea considered in Paris was to spend part of the Erasmus programme funds on exchanges between young craft apprentices and a summer school on specialised aspects of restoration.
Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO, concluded that “What has happened in Notre Dame should draw everyone’s attention to the fact that preserving our heritage is everyone’s responsibility”. Perhaps this tragedy will lead to renewed interest in our historical treasures and our priceless art.