DIG IT UP - Building social connections through heritage
In quickly changing and diverse cities, people search for a shared sense of continuity and belonging. In the Dutch city of Rotterdam, DIG IT UP uses innovative heritage activities to involve people in preserving their local cultural history. Combining digital tools and physical meetings, their projects demonstrate the importance of culture and heritage in strengthening the social fabric of cities.
A key characteristic of cities is their diversity. Rotterdam’s population includes over 180 different nationalities and innumerable communities and lifestyles. This means the heritage of this city is equally diverse. The inhabitants of Rotterdam live together in a city that changed dramatically over the last decades. After the Second World War, Rotterdam’s physical and socio-cultural infrastructure was rebuilt at a spectacular pace. The city is now recognised internationally for its architecture, diversity and vibrant urban life. However, like many other cities, Rotterdam is dealing with issues of gentrification and inequality. An important challenge is to ensure that everyone can live and work safely in a sustainable urban environment.
In this dynamic urban setting, DIG IT UP brings people together around the cultural heritage of Rotterdam. In community-based heritage activities, the organisation crowdsources audio-visual material, digitises it and shares it through a range of formats such as exhibitions, documentaries and cultural events. In so do doing, they preserve stories, photos and videos that would otherwise be lost. Among other projects, they have documented the LGBT history of Rotterdam, preserved a collection of 50.000 photos featuring the everyday life in the poorer parts of the city, and organised a celebration of the city’s popular music heritage.
What all these projects have in common is that they involve local communities and present material in both digital and physical settings. DIG IT UP does so in collaboration with a range of other institutions and businesses. Crowdsourced collections are passed on to the city archives at the end of projects, to ensure that the material is preserved for posterity. This connects official and grassroots heritage activities and enriches the city archives with alternative histories of Rotterdam.
DIG IT UP not only preserves urban cultural heritage, the organisation contributes to building social connections in the city. The various projects highlight how cultural venues, youth cultures and festivals are essential to foster creativity, identity and place-attachment. Its exhibition space and heritage lab function as what Ray Oldenburg described as a ‘third places’. Next to home (first place) and work (second place), third places provide accessible and low-profile environments that foster social interaction. DIG IT UP does not have a posh museum building or a guard who sells entry tickets. Instead, as you walk through the door, you are immediately greeted by a volunteer in the cosy exhibition area. Many people who walk in out of curiosity end up as volunteers themselves, captivated by the human-scale charm of this organisation.
Arno van der Hoeven is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In the period 2014-2018, Arno served as board member and chair of DIG IT UP. Arno’s research focuses on the contributions of media and culture to urban development. He has published widely on popular music heritage, the impact of live music on cities and participatory heritage activities in urban settings. For more information: www.arnovanderhoeven.nl