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Preserving and enhancing cultural heritage with advanced digital technologies

Digital technologies, from 3D simulation to artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality, are being used to ensure preservation and wide access to cultural heritage and the arts. Extensive research has been already funded to support the digitisation of libraries and archives, virtual tours of museums and archaeological sites, as well as digital curation and preservation of cultural goods. However, there is need to expand and further support the application of digital tools to preserve cultural heritage and to make it widely accessible. The relation between cultural heritage and its digitised format through the experience of audiences is of particular interest. Moreover, the “born digital” heritage, in parallel to the digitised one, is becoming of increased importance, requiring further research on its intrinsic value and limitations of use.

The role played by digital during the recent COVID-19 pandemic crisis is especially noteworthy, as it proved to be the most valuable means to access cultural assets during the extended period of confinement. Museums and libraries offered free access to their collections, artists were performing live online and theatres where streaming their performances through the web to help lift up people’s morale and improve their well-being. Assessing the impact of these activities and drawing lessons in view of future crisis management requires targeted research.

Taking these points into account, R&I actions under this topic are envisaged to promote extended digitisation so that collections, artefacts and monuments, including the “born digital” heritage, can be preserved, restored and safeguarded in a sustainable and user-friendly way. At the same time, research should prevent any potential negative consequence of doing so. In addition, digitisation practices have to comply with intellectual property law, in particular copyright law. They should develop digital facilities that will allow building shared infrastructures, provide specialised trainings and courses and facilitate knowledge and know-how exchange to address real needs in the field of cultural heritage. Projects should thus increase the use of existing tools and cutting-edge technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality or artificial intelligence, to reduce access and knowledge limitations to cultural assets. By assessing the role of digitisation in engaging with culture and cultural heritage during the COVID-19 crisis, they should draw lessons and provide resilient policy scenarios or recovery tools for the cultural and creative sectors in a post-crisis era. By creating new or fostering existing tools, they should aim at boosting the socio-economic sustainability of cultural and creative industries in the COVID-19 post-crisis period and provide sustainable applications and solutions to strengthen their innovation potential as well as manage future crises. This requires collaboration between technological firms, research institutes, universities and cultural and creative sectors/industries to generate tailor made know-how and transfer expertise to foster the digital transformation of Cultural Heritage institutions. Innovative approaches to R&I including user-led innovation could be applicable.

R&I actions funded under this topic are expected to establish the state of the art of digital methodologies and tools to protect the rich and diverse European cultural heritage, including the “born digital” heritage, in complementarity with more established conservation and protection methods. Data and products coming from the Copernicus services, specifically Copernicus Emergency, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring, Climate Change and Copernicus Land Monitoring Services can give a great support in preserving cultural and natural heritage sites.