People’s Choice: Heritage Day looks at a history of tough decisions


Flanders’ annual Heritage Day celebration is this Sunday and is putting choice in the spotlight. Here’s what you need to know to make your own decision about how to spend the day

Decision time

Every April Erfgoeddag, or Heritage Day, delves back into the past to celebrate stories and cultural objects from Flanders. But it’s not just an exercise in nostalgia.

Besides tackling timely subjects like how to preserve the past in a digital age, the theme of this 18th edition of the event – “choice” – has an added impetus. With local elections set for October, and 2019 seeing the triumvirate of federal, regional and European Parliament elections, decision-making is very much on the agenda. Just what political priority should we give to safeguarding our heritage?

This Sunday across Flanders and Brussels, more than 500 heritage institutions – museums and castles, but also churches and universities – are laying on activities, with each, appropriately enough, choosing what to focus on.

“Many have decided to put the history of elections in the spotlight,” says Flemish culture minister Sven Gatz. “How did the electoral struggle go previously? Which posters and slogans did they use? What traces remain of past smear campaigns?”

In Antwerp, the Museum Plantin-Moretus will be running a workshop where visitors can create their own election posters and pamphlets, and print their campaign material on a beautiful 20th-century printing press. Other star draws: an exhibition on name selection from the middle ages to the 19th century at the State Archives in Ghent, and an exhibition and concert probing Rossini’s decision to stop composing operas at the age of 37 at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels.

Roeselare’s Wielermuseum (Cycling Museum) will showcase the finest items in its collection, from iconic jerseys to celebrated bikes, as decided by a public vote.

Call to consciousness

In total there are some 700 activities on offer, ranging from special exhibitions, tours and lectures, to walks, workshops and film screenings. Enticingly, all are free, but some require reservations. The full programme, which includes a strong array of family-friendly options, is available to consult online.

Masterminded by Faro, the Flemish support centre for cultural heritage, as well as local institutions, this year’s Heritage Day aims to sensitise visitors to the choices that museums and other bodies face. Why do certain objects deserve to be preserved? What gets to be exhibited and why?

Everyone is interested in some part of heritage or other

- Culture minister Sven Gatz

Rewinding the clock, it will also reveal previous choices that determined how current collections came into being. It’s a call to consciousness that is mirrored by the wider European Year of Cultural Heritage, a European Commission initiative that strives to raise awareness about identity and bolster a sense of community among citizens in 2018.

Heritage Day is by now a firm post-Easter fixture, attracting a respectable 250,000 visitors annually. And although heritage might appear a dusty subject, that couldn’t be further from the case, argues Gatz.

“Whenever I visit associations or initiatives that deal with heritage, I notice how passionate people are about this, and how fascinating, rich and diverse our heritage is,” he says. “Everyone is interested in some part of it.”

But which part? These three commandments should help you find out.

Choose to go
Apathy be damned – our choices define us and discovering more about how others (in this case local institutions) make theirs can only help. In other words, Heritage Day isn’t just about staring at old buildings – technically that’s the role of September’s Open Monument day, which deals with immoveable objects – but getting to grips with the key dilemmas of our times.

Choose wisely
What do I do? The eternal question, and in this case a bit of a head-scratcher given the panic-inducing array of activities. The free Heritage app bundles them all into a handy overview, and doubles as a guide on the day. You’ll also find background information on objects, exhibitions and youth-oriented activities.

Choose public transport
De Lijn is offering a duo day-pass that provides two people with free travel by bus and tram on Heritage Day. As usual, NMBS weekend tickets will give 50% discounts off return rail travel. In participating cities, a number of Blue-bikes – present in 50 stations across the region – will also be available to hire for free. Check the Heritage Day website for details on Brussels travel promotions, which differ slightly.

22 April, across Flanders and Brussels

Photo courtesy Heritage Day