Creating a shared narrative & thriving communities through cultural heritage

When Notre Dame burned, the world cried. The response was outstanding, unprecedented and very clear – a universal sense of ownership and connection to the mythic cathedral was shared by millions globally.

In recent history, countless other cultural heritage sites that are a part of a shared narrative that stretches over borders, cultures and seas, have also be lost and damaged. The Citadel of Aleppo, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the mausoleums of Timbuktu, these are all sites with deep-rooted histories and global relevance that are in precarious situations.  

International Law student and PLACE Catalyst, Naouël, is passionate about protecting our shared cultural heritage. Naouël’s family hails from Oran, Algeria, but she calls the vast spaces of Northern France home. Growing up in a small community, she often felt different – her family’s culture and traditions didn’t entirely fit with those of her friends. However, as a child, it was during her history courses and visits to historical sites that she felt she was riding the same wave as her classmates.


The ample cultural heritage that is found in France has become an important part of Naouël’s identity. Today as an international law student she is passionate about protecting cultural heritage for future generations. 

Through PLACE, Naouël is developing her storytelling skills to inspire others to take action in protecting our shared cultural heritage. Her message is loud and clear: shared cultural heritage should be leveraged as a tool for building strong diverse societies. Coming from a family with a recent story of migration, the cultural heritage she found in France and Algeria enabled her to create strong ties with these lands that both claimed a part of her identity. She sees cultural heritage as a powerful tool for European host societies to create a shared narrative with newcomers and accelerate the integration process. 


In early November, Naouël attended a recent event at the Canadian Cultural Centre that took another approach to protecting cultural heritage – sensibilization through art. Déplacement is an art exhibition that explores the need to protect shared cultural heritage and the responsibilities of global actors. Through this exhibition, Canadian artist Dominique Blain puts ancient sites and works of art that are at the root of ancient civilizations in the spotlight, paying respect to the works that are lost and raising the warning flag for the pieces at risk.    

There is a sense of innovation and utility in leveraging the old resources to meet future needs. People with a new eye, like Naouël, are precious to the necessary work being done on creating societies where complex identities can thrive together. 


Dominique Blain, Bamiyan, 2013, Impression numérique au jet d’encre sur papier/inkjet digital print on paper