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Culture and Rural Development

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culture and rural development

In terms of culture, there are few rural regions
which are underprivileged;
full of history, traditions, forged by
the work of generations of men and women, they usually
possess a rich heritage or a strong cultural identity.
Local culture, a source of activities, pride and well-being,
can be a major asset to development.


Culture has the means and the ends of development at the same time: to a great extent, it is by emphasizing the wealth and diversity of their cultural heritage that rural areas will be able to develop those economic activities which can generate added value and employment. Equally, affirming the local cultural identity and the improvement in the quality of life brought about by these activities strengthens the pride of rural populations and their sense of belonging to a territory –which mean guaranteed survival and development.

There are numerous different LEADER projects involving culture, but here we can identify four different types of contribution which they have made: promotion of regional identity, exploitation of cultural heritage, creation of permanent cultural infrastructures (cultural centres, ecomuseums, etc.) and organisation of specific cultural activities, (entertainment and festivals for example). These are four components of a strategy aimed at increasing the quality of life, stimulating local development and making rural areas more attractive.


Promoting the local identity, regional languages and minority cultures. Promoting the local identity is the cornerstone of the strategy of many of the LEADER groups: it makes it easier to mobilise the local population and allows the full benefit of the cultural originality of the area to be reaped. This is particularly obvious in the minority language areas in Ireland and in the United Kingdom (Gaelic, Welsh), in Spain (Basque) and even in Italy (Modican in the Iblea area of Sicily, for example) The Meithal Forbartha na Gaeltachta LEADER area is made up of 9 territories where Irish is widely spoken by most of the population. Amongst other things, the LAG finances the production of books, tapes and other educational material. The Barrow, Nore, Suir group has funded Irish language, music and dancing courses. Funds have been allocated for modernising classrooms and updating several educational establishments by providing computers, etc. In the United Kingdom, the Lochaber group (Scotland) is making an effort to promote the Gaelic language, culture and music by organising intensive language courses, creating Gaelic medium playgrounds and promoting festivals to help learn traditional instruments songs and dances. In Spain, the Navarra group is supporting the production of Basque language radio programmes and is helping with the restoration of buildings with historic and artistic value along the "Way of Saint James of Compostella", which are used for teaching the language.


Exploiting the cultural heritage

Renovation of villages

The development strategy based on "village renovation" –architectural rehabilitation, restoration of facades, land management, etc. is very common in the rural areas of Germany: in the area of Oberfranken (Bavaria) for example, LEADER is helping with the renovation of the village of Posseck; cleaning facades, restoring buildings in keeping with the provincial architecture, utilizing unoccupied buildings, etc.
This process is rapidly spreading to other countries.
In France, the Centre-Ouest Bretagne group is helping to renovate the centres of the old Breton towns; their architectural quality has justified the group's setting up an operation which provides financial aid to localities giving their market centre a general overhaul; this covers renovating the streets and the facades and the signs, as well as providing bilingual road signs in French and Breton. The Pays Cathare group (Languedoc-Roussillon) is participating in a project to raising the quality of the architecture of its villages by supporting projects for training craftsmen in historic building techniques, as well as with other instruments for helping the villages to preserve the traditional character of their buildings. In the Alto Tâmega area (Portugal), one of the villages has been chosen for its specific character and its location in the heart of the Barroso region, where the landscape and environment offer great tourist potential. About twelve houses have been renovated under a project aimed at developing the village.

Exploiting of the architectural heritage

Restoring historic or interesting buildings increases the attractiveness of the area and can transform some sites into a focal point for tourists.
In Spain, the Murcia group has set up a plan for exploiting the historic and artistic heritage of the region. This plan involves a total of 6 investments in archaeological sites and monuments. The project also involves specialist training, offering a series of graduate courses, and the publication of a tourist guide covering archaeology, history, monuments and ethnography.
On the Island of Minorca (Baleares), the Isla de Menorca group is helping with the restoration and conversion of a "Talayot" site dating from 2 000 B.C. This 6 ha. site contains several "talayots" (Roman buildings) surrounded by a wall, along with several other walls and towers from the classical era.
In Greece, the Messinia group (Peloponnese) is contributing to the restoration of 26 historic buildings and monuments of architectural interest.
In France, the Terasses et Vallées de l'Aveyron group (Midi-Pyrénées) is helping to develop three listed châteaux dating from the XIth and the XVIIIth centuries which are being restored. The first of the châteaux will focus on pre-history, another will trace back the local history of the Templars, and a third will house a museum devoted to the painter Marcel Lenoir.

Cultural itineraries

Setting up cultural itineraries enables the local heritage to be exploited and allows the interesting sites to link together, thereby widening the tourist appeal.
In the United Kingdom, the South Pembrokeshire group (Wales) has restored 240 km of footpaths and historical sites along the Welsh/English linguistic border. This project –"Landsker Borderlands"– has noticeably increased the tourist trade in the area and was the reason why the LAG recently received an important national award.
In Italy, the Lagorai Sud group (Trentino-Haut Adige) has established a network of tourist walks entitled "Memory Lane", which highlight and enhance its heritage (building tools, treasured objects, costumes, and the like).
Under the same tourism/culture series, the French group Pays de Forcalquier (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) has been participating in signposting the sites along the "Route de la Lavande" (Lavender Route) and the "Domitian Way", a Roman road linking Rome to Spain. The scheme involves 35 localities.
In Spain, the Sierra de Cádiz group (Andalucia) has been supporting the creation of a series of cultural routes based on the different successive cultures: Neolithic, Phoenician, Roman, Arab and Renaissance. A catalogue giving details of the special features of each route will be published in the near future.
In Portugal, the Beira (Centro) group has inaugurated several tourist routes based on the habits, customs and culture of the local people.
The Alto Tâmega (Norte) group has set up routes linking the different cultural sites in the area.


Exploiting the traditional craft and artistic skills. Traditional skills, which are symbolic of the local culture, have often expanded into productions which transcend the classical distinction between "art" and "craft". For different reasons, however, –lack of product development, absence of anyone to take over, etc.– some of these "noble" activities, which have a large added value, tend to become abandoned and need to be restarted or rehabilitated.
In Portugal, the Terras de Sousa group (Norte) has created a document restoration trade school following the secular tradition of the monastery at Pombeiro. The project aims to revitalise and expand the art of restoring illustrated documents.
The Raia Centro-Sul group (Centro) group has launched two projects aimed at promoting traditional embroidery in the region of Castel Branco: there are craft embroidery courses and a marketing organisation has been set up.
In Spain, the Montaña Palentina group (Castille-Leon) has set up a cooperative to restore period musical instruments and to manufacture reproductions of instruments which have already disappeared, or are on the point of disappearing.
The Oscos-Eo group (Asturias) is organising architectural courses aimed at qualified professionals. This technical training aims both to provide a new impetus for traditional stone building techniques and to integrate new buildings into the structural fabric.
Still in Asturias, the Oriente de Asturias group has been supporting the modernisation of 4 small handicraft workshops. They are intended to conserve traditions such as the manufacture of wooden clogs or "madrenas", while employing traditional carpenters and stonemasons so that they can restore houses with typical local architecture.
In France, the Gerbert-Massif Cantalien group (Auvergne) is attempting to attract craftsmen by offering them a personalised introduction, promotion of their products and accommodation in buildings specially adapted for their activities. The LAG has, for example, compiled an inventory of houses with character which have rooms which can be converted into workshops for purchase, rent or loan to the craftsmen.
The Préalpes Drômoises group (Rhône-Alpes) is providing support for economic and cultural activities involving the production of Provencal "santons" (these are plaster figurines placed in the crib at Christmas). This involves creating new products, research, meetings between craftsmen and designers, training sessions, exhibitions and seminars.
The area of Elassona (Thessalia) has preserved the ancient skill of manufacturing traditional clothes, involving embroidery, weaving and knitting. The LAG has provided financial assistance for the modernisation of machinery intended for the production of "kilims" (high-quality carpets).


Permanent cultural infrastructures. In most areas, LEADER is helping to create or equip structures for promoting culture. The interpretive centres, heritage houses and other ecomuseums are helping to increase the quality of life for rural populations and improve facilities for visitors.

Cultural venues

In Greece, the Thebes group, (Central Greece) is helping to build and open-air theatre, primarily as the venue for the "International Festival of Ancient Drama". It will also serve as a venue for other cultural events taking place in the area; it is expected to employ 15 people.
In the Clare area (Ireland); LEADER has aided the funding and planning of a school combining traditional, classical and choral music, with its base in the county capital, the teachers operate throughout the County allowing the school to reach out to every community.
The Leer group in Germany (Lower Saxony) has been helping with a centre combining cultural activity and environmental protection. Known as the "low-energy house", it is intended to be as energy-efficient as possible.
A cultural centre is being developed to cater for the needs of artists and craftworkers in the South West Mayo area in Ireland. It will provide exhibition, training and marketing facilities and will also act as a tourist development centre.

"Heritage houses and interpretative centres"

In Spain, the Orense group (Galicia) is helping with the construction of a building intended for promoting the area and diffusing its culture (exhibition rooms, library, etc.). The building will also be used as a hostel promoting regional products, food and culture.
In France the Pays de Soule group (Aquitaine) has been helping with the creation of a "Heritage House" for conservation, archiving and organising exhibitions on the Soule heritage. The house is a meeting place for the various cultural partners and a coordination point for research and other work conducted in the Pays de Soule. It will contribute to the promotion of tourism in Soule through the use of multi-media techniques.
In the United Kingdom the Western Isles, Skye and Lochalsh group (Scotland) is supporting the creation of "Interpretative centres" for Gaelic history, the crofting tradition, etc. These centres will act both as local resource centres, supporting the work of local History Societies, and as tourist centres.


In Greece, in the Amvrakikos area (Epirus), renovation work has been carried out on two old buildings belonging to the customs service formerly in operation in the area. These buildings will house a museum of the flora and fauna of Amvrakikos, and a museum of agricultural implements typical of the area.
In France, in the Buësch-Durance area (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), an ecomuseum spread over several sites is being set up. Each site will be dedicated to an individual theme, such as water, daily life in the XIXth century, old agricultural machinery or relations between the Catholic and Protestant communities from the Reformation to the present day. Two other sites will be dedicated to the railway and its impact on local life as well as to traditional economic activities which have been developed in the area, such as sawing and silk-worm breeding.
The Ouest-Guyane group has been participating in the creation of a craft centre as well as a museum dedicated to the different ethnic groups in the region (Amerindians, Bushningués, Créoles, Hmongs). Its unique feature is that it presents craftwork typical of the Galibi American Indian culture. The craftwork is displayed and sold at the centre. This initiative enables the inhabitants of Bellevue to preserve their culture while participating in the economic life of the locality.
The Wexford group in Ireland is participating in the construction of a "Kennedy Centre" (the family of John F. Kennedy has connections with the area). Its activities will be concentrated on various themes such as emigration and the eighteenth century. The centre will also incorporate a database on emigrants travelling from Ireland to the United States.
In Spain, the Montaña Alicante group (Valencia) is helping with the restoration of a late XVIIIth century house for use as a combined museum dealing with the three typical local products: wheat, oil and wine. The project is being piloted by a private non-profit-making organisation which is renowned for the quality of its scientific works, mainly in the archaeological field.


Entertainment and cultural dissemination. A number of the LEADER groups are involved in the organisation of cultural activities and events; festivals, permanent exhibitions and other tools for disseminating culture are helping to bridge the town/country gap, in terms of the intellectual life, for example and helping to attract a specialised clientele to the area.

Cultural events

In Spain, the Sierra Norte de Madrid group (Madrid) is using cultural events to involve the population in the process of local development. Four local activity coordinators are advising corporations and cultural associations on the promotion of social initiatives such as plays, musical events and traditional games tournaments.
In Portugal, the Serra de Sicó group (Centro) is supporting various tourist pilot schemes; backing traditional popular festivals, traditional games, folk events. These programmes, which are sometimes combined with festive gastronomic events, are aimed at increasing the region's appeal and encouraging prolonged stays.
The Alto Douro group (Norte) has helped to form a cultural cooperative involving 157 associations and individuals involved in promoting cultural initiatives in the area.
The "bastides" in the south west of France were "new towns" built in the XIIth and XIIIth century all following the same architectural pattern. Four of the towns, which have particularly well-preserved centres, have been granted the National "Pays d'Art et d'Histoire" (country of art and history) Award. The aim of the LAG is to revitalise these historic centres by raising awareness of the cultural richness intrinsic in these towns. The project is aimed at local people, elected representatives, tourists and schools. Visits, conferences and heritage classes have also been organised.
In the Haute-Garonne area (Midi-Pyrénées), a commune has invited a theatre group to set up permanent residence and to co-manage a street festival, with drama, music and animation.
The Lot-et-Garonne group (Aquitaine) is providing aid for different cultural activities, such as a theatre group, a Countryside Drama Festival and meetings for European barrel-organ enthusiasts.

Travelling cinemas

Travelling cinemas –mobile projection equipment– allow films to be screened in the most remote areas.
In France, the Livradois-Forez area (Auvergne) already had a travelling projectionist with a commercial format projector. LEADER has enabled the creation of a second network linking up 28 communes. Recently an average of 45 tickets have been sold for each screening, thanks to the programming of very recent commercial films. Over 500 screenings per year are planned.
The Ardèche Centrale group (Rhône-Alpes) had been supporting the "Ecran village" association, which has run a travelling cinema service since 1978. The service covers 9 localities. LEADER has financed the acquisition of professional 35 mm equipment by the association, enabling them to screen films all year round and to offer a wider choice of films.


In addition to the entertainment which they offer and the high profile which they give to the local artists, festivals also offer an opportunity to involve people in local development by focusing their attention on organising an intensively interesting activity. This kind of event helps to develop the image of the countryside while stimulating the enterprising qualities of the local people and increasing their willingness to participate in business ventures.
In France, the Neufchâteau group (Lorraine) is organising a Festival of Creative Arts and Folk Traditions focusing on the Celtic origins of the pagan customs found throughout the European countries.
The Est-Mayennais group (Pays de la Loire) is helping to organise a Mayenne Nights Festival, with cultural activities such as choral concerts, drama, folk dancing, etc. on tourist sites.
In the North Tamar area in the United Kingdom (South West), festivals such as the "Folk Arts and Cider Festival", and the "Festival of Food and Drink" are being organised to promote off-season tourism.
In the Comhar Iorrais Teoranta area (Ireland), funding has been given to a drama group to hold a drama festival and to build a new stage for the area in an already existing hall. The action aimed to encourage the involvement of young people in drama and to create a higher profile for drama.

source: LEADER Magazine nr.8 - Winter, 1994

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