Critical Review of Sustainability Priorities in the Heritage Sector: Evidence from Latvia’s Most Visited Museums




sustainable development, sustainable development goals, cultural sustainability, cultural heritage, museums, museum accreditation


A vibrant debate about the role and participation of museums in urbanisation, industrialisation, human rights protection, technological progress, climate change and other global challenges has persisted in the field of museums ever since the boom of theoretical museology, which coincided with the development of the sustainable development concept. However, often culture is considered a part of social sustainability pillar, covering manifestations such as equity, participation, social justice etc. (Murphy, 2012; Vallace et al., 2011; Cuthill, 2010) or ignoring cultural aspects altogether (Chiu, 2004). Many voices have called to promote culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development as a necessary foundation, condition or groundwork through which understandings of social, economic, and environmental sustainability may appear (Soini & Birkeland, 2014; Hawkes, 2001). Although the potential of cultural heritage institutions such as museums towards sustainable development is outlined in relevant literature, there has been no radical shift in museum practice (Ross, 2004; Simon, 2010; Nomikou, 2015). The paper aims to propose the first-ever critical review of sustainable development priorities in Latvia’s most popular museums with a view to finding out their strategic priorities and using these findings to identify today’s specific thematic development lines relevant to the museum sector within the sustainable development framework and to apply this bottom-up principle to propose potential ways to improve the general goal of Latvia’s museum accreditation system – that of promoting sustainable museum practices – with specific pointers and thematic building blocks for the broad umbrella concept of sustainable development. Research objectives include (1) conducting a critical review of relevant literature to identify the role of cultural heritage within the evolution of the sustainable development concept (2) identifying the themes of sustainable development that have been communicated as strategic priorities to stakeholders by the country’s nine most visited museums and (3) using research findings to illuminate and pinpoint a specific array of themes pursuant to the general goal of Latvia’s museum accreditation system – that of promoting sustainable museum practices – for the system to serve as a more comprehensive and targeted tool for fostering sustainable
development in the heritage sector and beyond. Qualitative content analysis has been chosen to analyse museum development strategies and their collection, research, and communication policies, that is, the museum strategic documents to be submitted by the museums seeking to receive state recognition. The study covers Latvia’s nine most popular museums, whose joint annual share of visits amounts to 50% of the country’s total rate (Latvian Academy of Culture, 2018). The study reveals substantial diversity in how Latvia’s most popular museums approach sustainable development goals while also exposing a few significant downsides. According to the findings, museum priorities include (1) heritage preservation, efforts to strengthen national identity, and information and communication technology sustainability in the context of cultural sustainability, (2) financial sustainability as well as tourism- multiplication and image-building in the context of economic sustainability, (3) eco-cultural resilience and improvements in the infrastructure for better energy efficiency as well as a degree of progress towards more sustainable transportation solutions in the context of environmental sustainability and (4) physical, intellectual, socio-economic and emotional accessibility and a focus on boosting social capital in the context of social sustainability. Adjustment of accreditation requirements to meet the sustainable development priorities, at least identified within the study, should, in the long run, raise awareness within the field, enable museums to target their efforts at addressing their downsides and finding possibilities for growth in the context of sustainable development as well as foster sustainable development in the larger field of cultural heritage sites and institutions, which, unlike its kindred sector of museums, exists outside the scope of restrictions associated with accreditation. Such adjustments will help achieve a broader input from the heritage sector towards sustainable development goals.






Social Evolution of Europe