There are many ways in which heritage can support communities that are currently marginalised, and I hope to explore and promote many of them in this blog. But heritage also has a long tradition of supporting the status quo, and more particularly of propping up the origin myths of the powerful. Sometimes this (small c) conservatism is tied to the material we interpret, but sometimes good heritage is still used to advance the causes of the powerful. Recent work at Finsbury Square in London exemplifies this.
When the Occupy London movement was coming under pressure at St. Paul’s a smaller related occupation was established at Finsbury Sq. http://www.occupylfs.org This camp had a lower profile than St. Paul’s. There are fewer tourists here and less to be lost by foregrounding the concerns of the occupy movement. Nonetheless the camp was shut down and the site was cleared in June 2012
Suddenly, a project which had been long in the planning and had received very little support came to fruition. A memorial was installed and dedicated to the people killed in the 1975 disaster at nearby Moorgate Tube station in which 43 people were killed. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-23481882 The memorial itself is relatively unobtrusive, but it sits at an angle to the street and the fenced in area creates a much commemorative space.
While the commemoration of the disaster was motivated by a concern for the people who lost their lives, the heritage space created by the commemoration sacralises a piece of public space and makes it unavailable for future protest.
I can’t believe that this is entirely coincidental.
When we ‘do’ heritage, we need to be awake to the ways in which one past can drive out another and what uses our work may be put to in wider political context.