Culture Was ignored for too long - Aga Khan

By: Joyce Mkinga

"Understanding of the importance of culture is slowly emerging as a critical element in development strategies in general", the leader of the world's Ismaili community said in Zanzibar yesterday.

His Highness the Aga Khan made the observation at the inauguration of a 100 year old building, newly restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

He stated that culture was also crucial for efforts to revitalise the historic cores of the world's towns and cities.

"Investment in historic cities can be a productive development, meeting practical needs, releasing creative energies and providing sources of social cohesion,"he said.

The Aga Khan deplored the fact that for too long culture has been seen as something unproductive, worthy of attention and support only after pressing social and economic needs were addressed.

Preservation and revitalisation of historic environments was important, given the powerful political and economic forces of change that have emerged in the last twenty years, the religious leader and leading philanthropist asserted.

"Change means opportunity for those who are well-prepared to manage it. Change can also be disorienting, particularly when there is erosion of structures, values and symbols that have provided shape and meaning in a given society and culture," he pointed out.

"It can be particularly destructive among the less well-off in any society, the very people often found in urban centres, the growing squatter settlements on the edge of cities and in much of the countryside," he emphasised. "The preservation and revitalisation of historic cities can contribute to stability, provide real economic opportunities and increase the overall quality of life," he said, noting further that supporting historic cities was a difficult task.

Restoration initiatives of the Historic Cities Support Programme of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture involves a broad approach which encompasses the reform of regulations and policies, mobilising public support and the development of a comprehensive restoration plan, he explained.

It is directly concerned with the revitalisation and restoration of historic cities linked to Islamic culture all over the world.

Source: Guardian,
March 18, 1997

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