Law on the movable and intangible heritage (CH- Canton of Vaud)

Implementing of a law that includes ICH

Museum: Cultural Service of the Canton of Vaud  website
Years: 2015 - ongoing

Cultural Service of the Canton of Vaud

Because of the new law that includes intangible cultural heritage, the Service of Culture received serveral financial resquests from ICH practioners. Some of them match precisely the criteria of  UNESCO regarding ICH, and the cantonal commission for intangible heritage is able to provide some money for these projects.

But the Service also received requests that are not in the ICH field : because the persons in charge are not practioners ; because it’s an historical research - that is often mistaken for intangible heritage - or a social survey ; because there is a misinterpretation between the concepts of intangible and dematerialized - a confusion that is often within the universities and high schools.

Practioners also get in touch with the Service of Culture to propose applications for enlarging the cantonal ICH inventory. For now, the cantonal ICH list is available on the internet and covers more than 70 traditions.

We always discuss a proposal, but we sometimes had a problem with the numbers of the practioners : some know-how is now practiced by very few persons and nobody can make a living from them. That’s the case of the know-how of spinning and weaving, and also the know-how of the blacksmith or farrier. For spinning and weaving, it exists and even has a school which offers vocational training, but there hasn’t been any student for the last 4 years. All this made us hesitate to inscribe this know-how in the cantonal inventory.

Law on the movable and intangible heritage (CH- Canton of Vaud)

Description of the project / practice / program

I could describe the ICH law of the Canton of Vaud and explain how this law considers  ICH, what kind of tools have been created, how we can use them and for what and for whom. I could also describe  the cantonal inventory.

But it’s perhaps not the most interesting thing to do. It may be more interesting to speak of 3 things : 1) the kind of requests the Service of Culture get from the practitioners, 2) what the Service of Culture can do for ICH by itself and 3) the way the cantonal museums are (or not yet) using the ICH concept in their positionning within their fields of expertise and in their exhibitions.

1) situation of the known requests for 2019 :
I already know that 4 differents financial resquests are going to be proposed in 2019 :

- the first one to help printing a book in franco-provençal dialect;
- the second one to help organize a master class named Master’s Secrets for the know-how of mechanical dolls or birds;
- the third one will have to do with preserving the ancient know-how of printing;
- the last one will be about the organization of a feast around a culinary speciality of serveral cantons in the western part of Switzerland, la raisinée. It’s a kind fruit pure, mainly made of apples and pears, that must cook for about 24 hours in very big cauldrons. That’s the project of an association that wants to preserve an old village oven. A jury will taste the different raisinées and award a prize for the best one. But what do you think the association needs to organize that feast? Metal bars to hang the cauldrons ! We are often surprised by the kind of needs the practioners have to preserve a tradition or a know-how. Such applications don’t match the previous idea we had. We can see now that some of our previous ideas were clearly idealized. But if the real needs turn out to be like the metal bar request, we will try to support these needs.

2) a project for highlighting ICH practices in the canton for this year 2019 :
It’s been a long time since the Canton of Vaud has managed a photographic survey. It will be done this year by the Service of Culture and there will be a topic related to contemporary ICH in the Canton of Vaud. This will be a competition open to professional photographers from the canton. This survey will certainly give way to a photographic exhibition and probably a publication.

3) the contacts the Service of Culture has with the museums of the Canton of Vaud, related to ICH :
- Cantonal museums. In the Canton of Vaud, we don’t have a big ethnographic museum, as Neuchâtel and Geneva have. Neither do we really have a small ethnographic museum, as Fribourg and Wallis have. Our ethnographic museum is part of the cantonal Museum for Archeology and History. And the ethnographic part is really thin. Before the enforcement of the ICH law, I went to explain to the directors the ICH concept. They are already informed, but haven’t really changed their practices till now, except for the Museum of Archeology and History. They have begun to study and present their ethnographic collection.

We must however remind ourselves that not all museums can use the ICH concept in the same way, because of their differences: the fine art museums are less connected with the notion because they usually show pictures that are self-sufficient and can speak for themselves as works of art. The scientific museums are connected with ICH, but less through their collections than through the way scientists have studied and are still studying objects and collections. The ICH is to be found, in these cases, in the jobs and the skills of the museum staff. The history museums are used to studying the ICH of their objects, even if they don’t name it like that. So they don’t change their practices and they don’t think to speak about them. The bottom line is this: despite the law, the cantonal museums have been interested in the ICH concept (the sensibilization job has been done), but have not used it as exhibition topics, until now.

- The law doesn’t allow financial assistance for local museums. Some of them, specially the thematic museums, have however understood the value of ICH for the presentation of their collections. In the Canton of Vaud, we have 2 nice examples : the first one is a typical local museum located in the mountains that exhibits a collection of objects to explain local history. This museum, located in Château-d’Oex, has a collection of ancient carvings. The inscription of carving in the Swiss ICH inventory has obviously made them change their way of considering their collections. They have now a very big project to enlarge their museum and make it a Swiss center for carvings. Their project has obviously taken advantage of the ICH concept and the Swiss ICH inventory.

The second museum I want to mention here is also a museum located in the mountains, but on the other part of the canton: it’s the International Center for mecanical art. Located in Sainte-Croix, this museum has a collection of mecanical dolls, singing birds and ancient music boxes. The village actually has an ambitious project of gathering together 3 different but small museums into a big one that would be topic-based on these mecanical arts. The fact that the Federal Office of Culture is now working on an inscription of the mecanical arts of time-makers and mecanical dolls for the UNESCO ICH list, is really important for them. They are surfing on this recognition. Even though the Service of Culture isn’t really involved in this project, we follow it and I often discuss it with the practitioners.

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

The Service of Culture of the Canton of Vaud isn’t a museum, but it is a governmental actor on a regional level. It is not only a stakeholder for museums, but for any citizen of the canton as well. It involves the 7 cantonal museums (Archeology and History, the roman Site and Museum of Avenches, the Botanical, Zoological and Geological museums, the Fine Arts Museum and the Musée de l’Elysée, a well known museum for photography), and the cantonal and Academic Library, many of them located in Lausanne.

The Service of Culture of the Canton of Vaud is the institution that has to implement the cultural policies of the canton and to enforce the law that provides the frame of action for the cantonal museums and library. This law is called in french: “Loi sur le patrimoine mobilier et immatériel”, that could be translated as: “Law on the movable and intangible heritage”. It is rather new since it became effective in May 2015. The Canton of Vaud is one of the first Swiss cantons to have a law that undertakes to take care of the intangible heritage.

Between 2010 and 2012 and to respond the request of the Federal Office of Culture, it is the Service of Culture that organized and managed the inventory of the intangible cultural heritage practices of the Canton of Vaud, and that proposed feasts and traditions be added to the national list of intangible cultural heritage. Since then, the Service of Culture has been, and still is, in charge of the inventory of the intangible cultural heritage practices of the canton.

It is also responsible for the dialogue between the Canton and the Federal Office of Culture. A special 2018 topic was to think about the recognition of the minoritory languages that are still alive in the western part of Switzerland as per the European Charter for Regional or Minority Langagues. The Service of Culture also receives the requests of any citizen that has questions about any topic related to intangible cultural heritage. It is therefore at the same time, a central part of the regional heritage system and a link between citizens and the Federal administration.

Photo: (c) Fabrice Wagner, Office du tourisme du canton de Vaud and Service des affaires culturelles

CV of the author

Ariane Devanthéry

Ariane Devanthéry has been educated as a cultural historian. She undertook a PhD at the University of Lausanne (2008). Her expert field is the history of tourism and the ancient travel guides of Switzerland and the Alps, between 1780 and 1920. She has been working since 2010 for the Service of Culture of the Canton of Vaud as a curator for intangible cultural heritage. Her office isn’t located in a museum, but in the Headquarters of the Cultural Service of the Canton of Vaud.


  • Remembering that behind each objet there is a person and a story, and that this is an intangible heritage ;
  • The museums could link in their inventories their objects with the ICH lists of their region ;
  • For a Cultural Service : the need for clear criteria to know what we can support and what is outside our jurisdiction ;
  • The need to keep in touch with other services of the administration, because taking care of ICH is not only a cultural or patrimonial matter, but also an educational, touristic and economical matter.  So we need to keep talking with different partners “ inside and ouside the administration ;
  • Knowing that it’s not always money that is needed, but sometimes advice or ideas about just doing it.



16 June 2020 from 17:58 to 17:58


Canton Vaud, Switzerland


It is no longer possible to subscribe to this bestpractice. Reports and videos will be published after the bestpractice.


Subscribe to the bestpractice