10th Year Anniversary Interview: Gianna Lia Cogliandro Beyens

10th Year Anniversary Interview: Gianna Lia Cogliandro Beyens

Gianna Lia Cogliandro Beyens is a founding member of Future of Religious Heritage and the current Secretary-General of ENCATC, the European Network on Cultural Management and Policy. Gianna Lia has extensive experience in working with European-wide organisations and with the European Union. Her support in helping establish FRH has been invaluable to its growth into a successful Europe-wide network.

In honour of FRH’s 10th year anniversary, we’ve conducted an interview with Gianna Lia to understand her perspective on the importance of Europe’s religious heritage and FRH’s mission to protect it.

1. As a founding member, what inspired you to create FRH?

It was in December 2010 that I heard for the first time about the challenges faced by the places of worship in terms of preservation, conservation, management, and finances all over Europe from Michael Hoare. It was precisely in Bruges, at the occasion of a family Christmas dinner at the house of his daughter Marie-Séverine. I was so impressed by Michael’s faith and his charming personality and by his strong wish to make a difference on what has been done so far by other existing national organisations that I immediately decided to embark on this new European project and share with him my experience and knowledge in establishing and running European organisations. One year later, the Statutes of FRH were published in the Moniteur Belge, a new European NGO was set, and a group of extremely passionate and tireless people from different European countries and with different sets of skills and profiles gathered together to form the first Council of FRH. It was an immense privilege for me to work for many years with all of them and to learn from each of them how we could create, thanks to our action, a new European community of policymakers, professionals, academics and researchers wishing to put “religious heritage”on the table of the European agenda and preserve it for the benefit of the future generations.

2. What does religious heritage mean to you?

All over the world, our religious heritage refers to historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down to us from previous generations. It is my strong belief, that my duty as a human being, as a European citizen and as a cultural professional, is to continue to preserve and valorise our common religious heritage and thus pass it on to future generations.

As a European citizen, I believe that religious heritage sites are important places that enable social cohesion and create and/or reinforce our European identity. This personal belief is also consolidated by a poll conducted in 2014 by Future for Religious Heritage clearly showing that 4 out of 5 Europeans think that religious buildings are essential for community life and want them used more widely.

From a personal perspective, religious heritage also means many different things to me. First is “The Beauty”. Throughout history, houses of worship have been some of the most beautiful structures of their time. These buildings bear important architectural innovations and have been the sites of significant cultural and pollical events. My best travel memories are images of beautiful sites such as the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, the impressive beauty of the Mosque Cheikh Zayed and the impressive co-cathedral di San Giovanni Battista di Malta and its masterpieces by Caravaggio. Places of worship are also “the biggest museum in the world”. This is why, when speaking about religious heritage, I cannot stop thinking about the beautiful collections of these past and present masterpieces, about an incredible number of breathtaking paintings and the perfection of several religious objects. I feel very committed to preserving this common heritage and very grateful that Future Religious Heritage was set to also act in this respect. Second, religious heritage means to me the power of the “religious traditions” passed from my grandmother to my mother both passionately celebrating all the different Catholic festivals and traditions including the food, all year long. Finally, it also means the positive energy of pilgrimages, the intensity of the spiritual dimension that one can feel only when being in Holy places such as the Church Padre Pio da Pietralcina in Puglia or inside the Santiago di Compostela Cathedral. As a cultural manager, I also believe that it is crucial to educate and train the current and future generations of stakeholders acting for the religious-cultural Heritage and thus to ensure its sustainability and resilience.

3. What is one of the biggest challenges facing religious heritage?

There are many challenges facing religious heritage nowadays and it is quite difficult for me to pick up only one. However, I would like to talk here about the challenge of the lack of information. Since the lack of awareness is often the starting point of many things including challenges. Information about religious heritage throughout Europe is opaque and often non-existent. I am very proud of the work done by our organisation thought the project FRH Inform; It was launched in 2017 to provide basic facts about the sector, its value, how it is managed and financed, the different uses to which it is put, a comparison of different approaches to subjects as varied as maintenance, preservation of artefacts or marketing, organisations active in the sector, and successful initiatives. Thanks to this initiative, FRH has created a network of industry professionals with the aim of developing both a methodology and an effective way of obtaining and collating responses to such questions. The project will need further funding and the involvement of the whole Future Religious Heritage community will be crucial for its further development.

4. How do you see FRH in the next 10 years?

I am very proud of what has been accomplished by FRH in the past 10 years. The organisation is now well-established thanks to the hard and tireless work of the Council members, the very competent office staff, and the generous support of its members. Today, the network is also widely recognized by the European institutions for its important and regular contribution to EU policy development, its membership is growing almost every day and its different activities are generating a clear impact at a local, national, and European level. In ten years, I am truly convinced that FRH will be even stronger and even more visible in Europe and beyond. The organisation will be the focal point for all the Cultural Religious Heritage stakeholders interested in having clear guidelines for preserving, restoring and readapt the use of places of worship, but also interested in learning about new practices for the management and promotion of their religious sites as well as in the development of advocacy actions and thus for the benefit of the whole religious cultural heritage community. In the next 10 years, I also believe that the membership will considerably expand outside Europe and the young generation will be even more active than today in helping the organisation to accomplish its unique mission and to achieve its important aims.

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