Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow Part IV

In this final part of the paper I presented for the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at potential solutions to the problematical representation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry, offered by respondents to my research.

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The establishment of Heritage Kernow by HM Government and Cornwall Council is an example of what could be a hugely positive step forward. Note the insertion of the word could though. Cornwall Council describes the group as: “Existing to bring partners together to improve understanding, interpretation and stewardship of the culturally distinctive historic character and heritage assets of Cornwall.”  However, like most things, how successful this body will be is likely to depend solely on who exactly is involved on the management committee of the organisation. My conversations with English Heritage were greatly disturbing and so an effective and open minded committee for Heritage Kernow is absolutely vital.

The Heritage Kernow Board, of which the Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard is a member has met sporadically and has come under significant criticism for not listening to grass roots organisations and individuals. Linked to this major concern, my respondents were clear about the importance of having a body who had real control, strong equal relationships with Cornish cultural groups and power to get their voice and narrative about Cornish identity represented within the tourist industry. A key point was that: “This body needs to be financed and run within Cornwall for Cornwall.”

Ian Saltern, highlighted to me: “The pressing need for such an organisation to monitor, advise and assist with developing the presentation of Cornish culture through tourist attractions. There is a fear of getting it wrong which leads to some avoiding Cornish culture entirely and tokenistic representations of Cornish culture playing to jaded clichés.”

The fear of getting it wrong, it could be asserted, is only there if you don’t sufficiently engage with or include indigenous Cornish cultural movements – a fact which goes to further underline the vital importance of getting such an organisation off the ground.

For any organisation to have a chance of success, the existing bodies need to be open and willing to work effectively with the formulation of what Heritage Kernow could be. The National Trust are in the early stages of updating their Cornish language policy, and Ian Marsh, the General Manager for West Cornwall has formed a working relationship with archaeologist and writer Craig Weatherhill to formulate a new document, which has been shared with me. Whilst it must be emphasised that this work is, at the present stages, in draft form, it could potentially offer a major improvement in the visibility of Kernewek and understanding of Cornish culture at the Trust’s sites in Cornwall.

Section 2.1 of the draft document notes that The National Trust recognises the distinctive cultural history of Cornwall and the place of the Cornish language as a unique and positive asset with The Cornish Language Office and other recommended experts forming a relationship to provide the Trust with help and advice, including translation services” (Weatherhill: 2017: p 2).

At the present time, the fact that the National Trust are willing to engage and openly consider further enhancing their use of Kernewek is positive. Whilst the final document when it is put together may be modified from how it presently reads, it appears that there is recognition of the momentum that is gathering around Cornwall. All it needs now is for other institutions to engage with this. There are many people, the vast majority of whom are volunteers, doing quite outstanding work around Cornwall to highlight, promote and stage examples of indigenous culture, history and arts. The skills of these people need to be harnessed by Cornwall’s tourism bodies and site owners so that their work, and the unique identity and history of Cornwall can get the wider recognition that it so desperately deserves.

Should these bodies seek to develop more recognition of Cornish culture, and build more of an inclusive and two-way relationship with cultural and historical groups around Cornwall, they would, quite possibly be pushing at an open door – as long as, and this is the key thing – the relationship that they seek to develop is one which represents Cornwall in a mature and truthful manner.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Weatherhill, C. (2017): ‘National Trust Policy for the use of the Cornish Language – Draft’.

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