Austria, which ratified the 2003 Convention in 2009, is a federal State with a number of competent bodies operating at different governmental levels. The governments of the nine Länder (provinces) have competence for implementing the 2003 Convention, with the Federal Chancellery playing a coordinating role: it has entrusted the Austrian National Commission to UNESCO (ÖUK) with the overall implementation of the Convention, which established an Advisory Panel for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009. The Federal Ministries of Health and of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management are also involved in transversal safeguarding actions. Hence, effective vertical and horizontal coordination are crucial.
Thus far, no specific body has been established for training in intangible cultural heritage management but both federal Ministries and provincial governments have financed activities of institutions that carry out training and capacity-building activities at Länder level are planned. The University of Vienna now also offers ethnography and anthropology students courses in intangible cultural heritage. Museums and archives document different aspects of intangible cultural heritage and there are also specific centres for documenting traditional and complementary healing methods and musical cultural heritage. ÖUK has also established a website on Austria’s intangible cultural heritage that is freely accessible.
ÖUK maintains the National Inventory (launched in 2010) which is compiled through a bottom-up process with the Advisory Panel meeting twice a year to evaluate nominations. The inventory is structured according to the five domains of intangible cultural heritage identified by the 2003 Convention and can also be searched according to province or date of inclusion. The criteria for inclusion closely follow Article 2.1 of the Convention, with certain additions such as that the element should not be misused for political purposes or exploited solely for touristic or economic aims; in addition, elements must not have been revived and must have been directly transmitted from one generation to the next without any long interruption. The inscription form is based on the nomination form for the Representative List of the Convention and the viability of the element and risk factors are also taken into account; applicants are encouraged to mention safeguarding actions undertaken. Evidence of the widest possible involvement and informed consent of communities, groups and concerned individuals is also required and they are encouraged to propose elements for inscription. Non-governmental organizations often provide support to communities in completing their nominations. The inventory is available through an online database, which is regularly updated, and also in published format.
In terms of research, a broad survey was conducted in 2013-2015 to identify the impacts of the inclusion of elements in the National Inventory, as well as to keep contact with the bearers. The results of this survey show that inscription leads to greater visibility of the elements and increased respect for intangible heritage generally. Federal agencies have also supported research in intangible cultural heritage (e.g. on tourism or traditional healing) and ÖUK has initiated with the Chamber of Commerce a project on traditional craftsmanship as an economic factor. Furthermore, a university-based research project is on the cultural sustainability of agricultural and artisanal practices for cultivating and processing crops. Generally speaking, research studies tend to focus on the impacts of ratification of the Convention or of inclusion of elements in the National Inventory.
An important policy aspect of intangible cultural heritage in Austria is the potential it has for promoting cultural diversity and inclusivity and, in particular, increasing recognition for linguistic minorities. The relationship between intangible cultural heritage and tourism is another focal area of ÖUK’s activities and this has received great interest from public authorities. A joint project of ÖUK and the national Tourist Office in 2011 was aimed at creating a platform for networking between tourism experts and local communities to create a strategy for sustainable tourism. Interestingly, most communities regard tourism as a positive force to increase the visibility of their intangible cultural heritage. Another policy priority is the importance of traditional knowledge relating to natural resources and hazards and interdisciplinary collaborations in this area are fostered to find new approaches towards sustainable resource management. Several elements on the National Inventory are linked to natural spaces (e.g. charcoal burning, pitch extraction and traditional seed cultivation).
Various committees and working groups have been established to initiate awareness-raising projects, especially in relation to intangible cultural heritage and natural hazards and resources (e.g. the Federal Ministries of Health and of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management have established three working groups related to intangible cultural heritage and forests). In addition, the provincial government of Upper Austria organized a series of events and exhibitions in 2015 to highlight intangible cultural heritage and that of Burgenland promoted intangible cultural heritage through a 44-episode TV series. Information related to intangible cultural heritage is disseminated both through the ÖUK online platform and through print media (leaflets, brochures, handbooks etc.) and TV and radio report regularly on intangible cultural heritage, especially at the regional level. Information meetings and events for adults (on the Convention and its implementation and national priorities) have raised public awareness of intangible cultural heritage and related issues. Representatives from ÖUK participate in festivals, press conferences, public award ceremonies and local community meetings and many festivals and other events are held to this end. A number of informative events have been held aimed at special target groups (representatives from the Länder, tourism organizations, minority groups or students) to enhance the number of local facilitators and to raise awareness about intangible cultural heritage. Several open-air museums in Austria document and preserve materials associated with culture, the way-of-life of communities, folk architecture and so on.
Intangible cultural heritage as a subject has not been included formally in the school curriculum, but the topic is integrated into various subjects (e.g. local history, music, arts and crafts) and some elements from the National Inventory are also included in educational programmes. Intangible cultural heritage is also a theme of meetings of the UNESCO Associated Schools and, in a nationwide project on ‘Cultural Heritage: Tradition and Future’, over 2100 pupils from 59 schools learned about intangible cultural heritage among other subjects. Education and training in the communities included a conference for midwives in 2009 focusing on traditional knowledge and methods. Non-formal means of knowledge transfer are still popular as evidenced by the unbroken popularity of folk culture events and the number of centres for craftsmanship offering educational programmes and training is rising. In cooperation with schools and universities, many centres (involving communities of craftsmen and women) offer lectures, courses, weekend and summer schools as well as postgraduate training for adults. Despite quality vocational training, numbers of apprentices have been steadily declining and so Austria puts strong efforts on ensuring the viability of traditional craftsmanship. The Austrian Falconry Association has also established a Falconry Academy which offers theoretical and practical courses two or three times a year.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, ÖUK enjoys a high level of exchange with national commissions from neighbouring countries. Through its online platform, intangible cultural heritage programme specialists from all over Europe exchange experience, good practices but also recurring challenges. Austria has participated in various workshops, informative events or expert meetings on inventorying and advised Germany on its ratification of the Convention (2011-2013) through an intense exchange of experience and good practice. Austria is also active in the South-East European Experts Network on Intangible Cultural Heritage (e.g. the inclusion of the language of the Roma minority in the National Inventory presented as a good practice) and its representatives have attended several international expert workshops and conferences for sharing information and advice. Austria organized an international workshop on the implementation of the 2003 Convention in 2013 with experts from Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland, addressing national approaches to implementation and thematic priorities with a view to further cooperative ventures (particularly with regard to multilateral, cross-border nominations and projects). Multinational nominations and other information-exchange mechanisms have helped practitioners (communities, non-governmental organizations, associations and experts) develop and maintain transnational and trans-border networks (e.g. between European timber craftsmen and –women).
Austria has three elements inscribed on the Representative List. The Falconry, a living heritage (with United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Czechia, France, Hungary, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Syrian Arab Republic, inscribed in 2012) is a multi-dimensional element in that it consists of knowledge about birds of prey, the natural environment, linguistic and artistic expressions as well as traditional craftsmanship. As a multinational inscription, it has encouraged falconers from different countries to gather and engage in an intercultural exchange of knowledge. The Schemenlaufen, the Carnival of Imst, Austria (inscribed also in 2012) is socially significant since it unifies the local population and has also provided newcomers to the town with a means for integration. It also contains a number of cultural practices, expressions, knowledge and skills (mask-making, building carnival floats, storytelling and dance). Perceived threats to the element include replacing traditional performances with new technologies and the impacts of tourism; the House of Fasnacht (a museum and archive dedicated to the element) plays a central role in safeguarding as a meeting point and cultural centre, for staging performances, transmission activities to local schools and a local documentation centre. The Classical Horsemanship and the High School of the Spanish Riding School Vienna element (inscribed in 2015) is not reported on in this cycle.