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5.7 Attributing a scale of meaning towards cultural assets

I propose an original five scale model which assists in attributing a level of meaning of each cultural asset to individuals, based on my reflections and learnings from the practice-based research explained in chapter four and demonstrated in the research portfolio. This scale of meaning leads to a greater understanding of how one asset can mean many things to different people, and also unlocks ideas for the manner within which one can begin to increase or encourage engagement with cultural assets, particularly with reference to the hidden heritage typology (table 1) which assists in revealing hidden heritage assets. Figure 9 shows this scale of meaning for cultural assets.

Figure 9- The scale of meaning for cultural assets


Source: personal research- original model based on reflections of research findings

One asset can mean different things to different people, depending on their level of engagement with it. The hierarchy proposed above shows a descending level of importance to an individual, with only the latter implying that loss of the asset would be of detriment to them. The degree of significance attached to a cultural asset is determined through the level of interaction which that individual has with it, and thus the level of meaning which it has in their life as it is unlikely that the asset would retract in importance back to being non-space once the individual had engaged with it to some degree. This scale of meaning does not necessarily correspond with an official register of assets, a building can be an internationally important cultural venue and yet still be non-space or wallpaper to an individual. This has implications for the use of the hidden heritage typology, for if we are to stop the hidden asset remaining hidden, we must employ a variety of means to make it seen, known, valued or told;

the key to getting people engaging with cultural assets is to allow them to enter this hierarchy and move up the levels, creating opportunities for cultural engagement which invite participation and remove barriers to interaction. In testing the scale of meaning it is important to consider that “preferences do exist, especially in an area as subjective as culture, and that as such there may be those who would gladly welcome support to participate in culture, just not the particular culture that is on offer” (Stevenson, 2013, p.80), therefore it is not implying that it is desirable that everyone should engage at the highest level with all assets, it is designed to offer a tool to query the level of engagement which takes place, and suggest ways of increasing engagement, where that is considered appropriate.

At level 1 a cultural asset is not recognised at all by that individual. The reasons for this may be multiple, from basic geography and lack of proximity to the asset, to one’s own cultural choices and interests. This is represented in official statistics as belonging to one of the thirteen segments of potential audience (Arts Council England, 2011) and levels of participation as seen in Scottish Household Survey (Scottish Government, 2017a).

When an asset is seen as wallpaper it is recognised as existing, but is not engaged with. Landmark buildings (Lynch, 1960) fall within this category, the individual regularly passes by the asset, and names it as important on their cognitive map, but may never visit it. The individual would be likely to notice the loss of this asset if it were no longer there, and may in fact mourn its loss to varying degrees depending on the nature of proposals affecting it, as discussed by Gregory (2014).

If an asset is an occasional space it may have one function for that individual, although the asset itself may actually be a multi-functional space, hosting many activities, but it is not recognised as such by that individual. One example of this could be a place of worship where an individual visits for a religious festival or occasion, but does not regularly attend services. The venue may be host to multiple groups and organisations, but these are not used or attended by that particular individual.

A multi-functional space takes on many degrees of value for an individual, and may be visited at different times for different reasons. A coffee shop may be a place to gather with friends, attend a writers group or listen to some open-mic music. It may not be visited every day, but represents a landmark on the cognitive map of that individual, and may form a cultural hub and district in that part of the settlement for them.

If an asset is the centre of an individual’s cultural world they regularly visit and engage with it in many ways, both in person and perhaps through online through social media communities. This asset may be the only cultural asset of distinct value to them, and may be vital to their cultural network. Alternatively, that person may be involved within a management or voluntary role within such an asset, taking an active part in the care and upkeep of the asset and co-ordinating or programming activities there. These individuals may attract others into the asset, widening its appeal through advocacy and social opportunities.

In applying the scale of meaning to my research one can use the case of Paisley Abbey and its cloisters as an asset to demonstrate how this one asset can occupy different elements of the hierarchy, as this asset was mentioned in the majority of cognitive maps therefore seen as of note, and is also a statutorily listed building and scheduled monument. Those who engage with the Abbey as a level 5 asset attend regular events and may be involved in management decisions, fundraising or stewarding, and hold it in high esteem and value. The Abbey can be a centre of an individual’s cultural world by forming a place of religious pilgrimage, and a place of work or volunteering. Individuals may engage with other assets to a lesser degree but the Abbey forms their main venue for social contact and enjoyment of leisure time.

As a multi-functional space (level 4) the Abbey fulfils its prime function by hosting regular devotional services for the Church of Scotland faith, yet is also a venue for paid concerts by prestigious artists (for example the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) as well as special community open days such as European Heritage Open Days where young people from Scouts Scotland act as tour guides and promote their group, and regular community events such as a Senior Citizen Leisure Club. It also forms a centre for a health support group for those with postnatal depression, offering listening support and creche facilities, and a meeting space for Alcoholics Anonymous. Individuals engaging at this level four on the scale may be regular attendees at any one of these events, yet also hold several other assets in high regard at different levels therefore not choose to focus their leisure time on just the Abbey.

At level 3 the Abbey has been an occasional space where one has had a reason to visit. This may be as part of an organised tour (in the recent past or many years ago) or for a ceremony or event. Alternatively, it may be an occasional place for coffee with friends, or a place to take visitors. There is less degree of special attachment as level four or five, but there is still

a recognition and engagement on some level, certainly beyond just recognising it exists and walking past it. As wallpaper the Abbey is something which has an architecturally distinctive physical presence, which even if one is unaware of the significance it could be clearly seen as an old and dominant feature of that area of the town. In this instance it is unlikely that the Abbey would be an asset of non-space, as it has such a huge physical presence that it would be wallpaper to almost everyone, ie. noticeable as a distinctive item in that location.

In conclusion, age and time can change the attribution of a cultural asset, as personal interests change and broaden different activities are practiced, which take place at different spaces (resulting in engaging with different assets), thus an asset which was once the centre of ones’ cultural world retreats back in importance to being an occasional space or wallpaper.

External changes can also result in this type of change, for example in the case of former dance halls in Paisley which are now offices mentioned by some members of the Roar group volunteers where the asset has lost its original function (where each Friday the asset would once have been the regular centre of their cultural world) to a new inaccessible interior and conversion to offices and shops. Now the asset acts as wallpaper, albeit wallpaper with fond memories attached. One can use the hidden heritage hierarchy to reveal insights into these changes, re-energising the original audience with their attachment to particular assets and broadening the appeal of an asset to others by raising it from non-space at level one towards something which they notice, or start to engage with more by observing its architecture or appreciating its layers of history, aligning with the principle that heritage is a process (Smith, 2011).

The scale of meaning further demonstrates that it is unlikely that an individual will not identify with any cultural asset, particularly when one takes into account the wider definition of cultural assets advocated in section 5.2. It is not necessary for everyone to engage with every asset at the highest level, the model is not proposing an “ideal” mode for cultural engagement, but acknowledging that everyone will engage at different levels, and there is potential for progression (or regression) through levels via changes in circumstance.

Knowledge of these levels in conjunction with the application of the hidden heritage typology offers a way to consider increases in audience engagement, and invites exploration of why one asset may be wallpaper whilst another is a hub and community beacon, a useful tool for venue managers and audience engagement developers across the tourism, heritage management and cultural arena, particularly where studies have suggested that certain audiences are at particular risk of non-engagement (The Scottish Government, 2010,

Mydland and Grahn, 2012, PAS, 2014, Neal, 2015, The Mighty Creatives, 2015, Scottish Government, 2018b).