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The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
Rock Art Network
The Four Pillars of Rock Art Conservation Policy and Practice

The Rock Art Network four ‘pillars’ make for strong rock art conservation in practice. This section sets out these four important areas of practice, citing a vision for what each aims to achieve, a summary of the key issues for each, a set of principles to guide practice at a more specific level and an outline of what needs to be done to improve policy and practice.

Four Pillars of Rock Art Conservation Policy and Practice

Overview of Pillar I: Public and Political Awareness
Challenges in Generating Political and Community Awareness of Rock Art

Sharon Sullivan
Private heritage consultant, Australia

This pillar of rock art conservation covers the need to raise awareness about the significance of rock art, the range and severity of threats to it and the need for effective responses to these threats. Public and political awareness of rock art is vital for successful planning and budgeting for conservation and management.

Pillar I: Vision
Sharon Sullivan The Rock Art Network Twyfelfontein World Heritage site Namibia Africa
Sharon Sullivan of the Rock Art Network at Twyfelfontein - The World Heritage site of /Ui- //aes in Namibia
© Ben Dickins

The vision is to have:

  • rock art widely valued as a unique cultural treasure and recognized as an integral part of cultural identities and a unifying global inheritance that links humanity to our environment;
  • rock art recognized and understood by decision-makers to be a diminishing and threatened treasure that requires on-going commitment and responsibility from all levels of government to protect and maintain it; and
  • an informed and educated public that is concerned, engaged, and involved with rock art, and is willing to promote awareness of it and the threats it faces.
Pillar I: Issues

A range of issues and concerns affects the awareness of rock art and its protection needs:

  • Although rock art is an immensely valuable cultural asset it is often not understood, respected or valued by the general public. There is a poor level of support for its recognition, conservation, protection and celebration from governments, decision makers and the general community, compared with support for other types of cultural heritage;
  • Damage to sites and lack of respect for and appreciation of them is often the result of ignorance or in some cases racism. This is the result of a lack of education and good interpretation;
  • Rock art has numerous and diverse cultural values and it is an integral part of the landscape in which it exists. The variety of values and this essential integration with the landscape are not always appreciated and articulated in conservation and interpretation strategies; and
  • Attempts to reach a wider public through museums, exhibitions, books, tourism products, radio interviews and websites have not yet significantly raised public awareness.
Principles for practice:

The following principles should be used to guide public and political awareness programs:

Build respect by encouraging understanding
Rock art is not always respected and efforts need to be made to build respect through developing understanding in a way that is targeted and relevant to the groups that need to be reached. Understanding is in turn encouraged by providing high quality information about the cultural significance of rock art. Information about the legal protection for rock art will also assist to build recognition that sites are valuable, hopefully encouraging more respectful behavior.

Build awareness in people that matter
Awareness programs should strive to open new ways to educate and engage the general public, but especially the younger generation and politicians. Links between groups interested in rock art and those that have responsibilities to protect it should be encouraged and supported.

Integrate values
The significance of rock art relates to the content depicted and the cultural context in which the art was made. It also relates to the natural environment in which the art is found. Raising awareness should emphasise the need to safeguard both rock art sites and their setting.

The views of cultural custodians (whether traditional owners, traditional groups or local communities) should be included in rock art awareness strategies that may affect their rock art.

Generate support
Public and political awareness activities should seek support from potential partners, collaborators and enablers, including encouraging both private sector and government financial support.

Ensure representation with integrity
Awareness programs should portray rock art sites not only as open air museums but also recognize their contemporary cultural values. All partners and collaborators disseminating information about rock art to the public should be aware of agreed standards for ethical practices, intellectual copyright and protocols for best practice in rock art presentation and marketing.

What needs to be done:

Targeted education and advocacy programs

1. Raise levels of stakeholder and public understanding by developing education and advocacy campaigns through appropriate media which are carefully designed to reach the target groups. Considerations for developing these programs include:

  • Concentrate programs on young people, those with political power or cultural influence and those living in close proximity to rock art sites;
  • Include information about the global significance of rock art as an ancient expression of culture and beliefs, and as a valuable and vulnerable resource. Portray rock art as equal in value to other major art traditions of the world;
  • Promote public recognition of the living connections between sites, local communities and traditional ownership that enrich the understanding and value of rock art;
  • Increase awareness regarding the legal and ethical responsibility of government and land owners towards rock art protection and conservation;
  • Ensure that media strategies designed for rock art promotion present an integrated and complete picture of the values of rock art;
  • Collaborate with traditional owners and neighboring communities to record, share and raise awareness of the issues and needs of rock art conservation at a local level.

Communicate and collaborate

2. Develop communication strategies to improve outcomes and if necessary, develop a coordinated media and marketing campaign that includes radio, TV, print media, traditional and social media, and an interactive website.

3. Develop partnerships with and involvement of different sectors of society to allow powerful links between traditional owners, descendants of the artists, neighboring communities, researchers, managers, government departments, tourism bodies, non-government organizations and potential funders and combine and pool resources for wider public awareness of the value and vulnerability of rock art.

4. Collaborate specifically with local communities and direct a fair proportion of any income generated from awareness-raising, funding and promotion activities to communities to use in conservation and management activities. In conjunction with the community, develop protocols for ethical practices, intellectual copyright and protocols relating to presentation and marketing.

Develop innovative awareness-raising activities

5. Increase awareness of the existence of rock art and its importance by engaging suitable audiences in particular activities. Options include:

  • Develop a rock art community festival and fund-raising activity that can be held simultaneously across the world;
  • Encourage rock art managers, researchers and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to engage with their local politicians, ministers and officials (local, state, provincial, national) to raise awareness of rock art values, needs and threats;
  • Approach major high profile businesses to raise funds for an NGO that will support initiatives for rock art protection as a part of their community engagement;
  • Invite famous people, well-respected experts in rock art, artists, politicians, sport stars and celebrities to be patrons or champions for international and national rock art;
  • Encourage volunteer members of the public and traditional owners to become actively involved in rock art conservation and management so that they are fully aware of the rock art in their area;
  • Encourage professional and academic meetings to include rock art presentations on conservation and management;
  • Develop connections between contemporary artists’ organizations and rock art that could lead to joint exhibitions and projects;
  • Encourage Indigenous communities to participate in special activities relating to rock art as part of their cultural celebrations;
  • Encourage the use of performance (theatre, dance, etc.) to tell the story of rock art as well as those stories encapsulated in rock art, including government-sponsored events, and approach festival organizers to include rock art in their themes; and
  • Develop and promote museum and art gallery based exhibitions as well as portable and travelling exhibitions of rock art.

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