Cultural significance  

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"Upon its release, The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico failed to be a financial nor a critical success. An often-repeated statement, usually attributed to Brian Eno or Peter Buck, is that "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." Today, the album is considered one of the greatest ever." --Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Cultural significance refers to all culture - whether tangible or intangible - that a group wishes to preserve rather than forget. It can be contrasted to products which are said to be 'utterly without redeeming social importance'.

It contrasts to the term cultural heritage in that the latter is concerned with cultural artifacts of the pre-20th century era.

On cultural significance

Credit must be given to the United States Library of Congress for their invention of 'cultural significance' in their list of films preserved in the United States National Film Registry. Thus a typical film who has been given 'significance' status is:

deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

But how to define cultural significance? The first observation is that the term significance is related to conservation and preservation of our cultural heritage (the sum total of all cultural artifacts we wish to remember). A 2004 version of the Wikipedia article (which now redirects to culture) says:

An invented term that intellectuals use to extort money from people who pay them to determine what does and doesn't have relevance.

However, the Australian Natural and Cultural Heritage Theme Report site says:

Cultural significance means aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.

From Place Matters Web Site: Creating Online Dialogues about Historical and Cultural Landscapes:

These currents have had some impact on conservation. The American Folklife Center’s conference and book Cultural Conservation (1983) introduced recommendations for protecting both tangible and intangible elements of cultural heritage. National Register Bulletin No. 38 (National Park Service, 1990) introduced new thinking about cultural significance in preservation practice, and the agency’s journal Cultural Resource Management dedicated a full issue to responses from the field. The Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter (1992) includes the term “social value” in its definition of cultural significance, along with aesthetic, historic, scientific value. The Getty Conservation Institute’s 1998 conference “Economics and Heritage Conservation,” began a long-term research initiative exploring multidisciplinary thinking about the future of conservation. The Municipal Art Society’s own policy report, History Happened Here, sketched out a broad conservation policy recognizing community culture and place attachment.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cultural significance" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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