Contents of the ‘Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC)’ category in chronological order.

50th Anniversary of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), (London, United Kingdom)

[I]t was not until a century later that the Institut [de France] made it a priority to revitalise the Domaine. And I was invited to become a part of the response. The Institut and I quickly agreed that a short-range burst of attention was not the answer. We needed a long-term plan. And we also agreed to build on the principle of public-private partnership. Increasingly, we realised the success of cultural projects in the developed world and the developing world alike requires a variety of actors animated by a robust spirit of cooperation and an overriding “ethic of partnership.” …

Planning ahead for long-term sustainability is critical. At Chantilly and elsewhere, our plans have included permanent service facilities — a museum perhaps, or a scholarly research centre, a children’s library, or a training workshop — so that their eventual income streams, along with public access fees, can provide re-investable income. But the real requirement, the sine qua non, is building a constituency for sustainability, including an engaged local community.

Let me conclude by underscoring my conviction that the work of cultural heritage is more critical today than ever before. In the developing and the developed worlds alike, societies are plunging into an increasingly bewildering future at an ever-accelerating pace. At such a time, and on occasions such as this, it is important that we commit ourselves ever more ardently to the essential work of cultural heritage as a powerful contributor to improving the quality of life for the entire human community.

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Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Interview, PBS, Lucky Severson (USA) ·· incomplete

How much are you guided by your faith? Is your faith everything?

Yes. I wouldn’t be guided by anything else. I wouldn’t understand that.

So every minute of every day, you’re guided by your faith?

Well, the faith has 1400 years of tradition. It has been exposed to so many different situations that there’s practically no human situation unknown to it, although science is changing things today.

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Aga Khan Park Opening Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

The Park and its Gardens can serve as a symbol of “connection” in other ways as well. Among them are rich connections across time linking us to the past. The Garden has for many centuries served as a central element in Muslim culture. The Holy Qur’an, itself, portrays the Garden as a central symbol of a spiritual ideal — a place where human creativity and Divine majesty are fused, where the ingenuity of humanity and the beauty of nature are productively connected. Gardens are a place where the ephemeral meets the eternal, and where the eternal meets the hand of man.

The tradition of Islamic Gardens places an emphasis on human stewardship, our responsibility to nature and to protect the natural world. We see that principle expressed in the disciplined use of geometric form — framing the power and mystery of nature. And, of course, the Garden of ancient tradition, like the Garden here today, is a place where — whatever difficult moments may come our way — we can always find, in the flow of refreshing water, a reminder of Divine blessing.

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Amir Aqsunqur Mosque Inauguration (Cairo, Egypt)

Through revitalisation of the sort we celebrate today, we hope to preserve an extraordinary panorama of Islamic history, from the Fatimid Caliphs to the present. At a time when fractures in the unity of the Ummah are so highly visible, I see such projects as particularly hopeful. They are important symbols for the identity of all Muslims, sources of pride for the entire Ummah. And finally I would like you to know that a young Muslim walking here in the 22nd century will be able to feel the pull of his or her own history, even in a radically transformed world. And let us be reminded, too, that in undertaking this work, we are not only attending to our own Islamic heritage, but also preserving an essential part of the patrimony of all humankind. I can say to you today that the potential power of Islamic cultures is such that the Ummah is capable of achieving global recognition for its amazing heritage of unique spaces and buildings.

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Humayan’s Tomb Site Museum Foundation Stone Ceremony (Delhi, India)

Through the centuries, millions of people have made their way here. They have come to see these architectural achievements, the oldest and largest Indo-Islamic architectural complex. They have come to admire the decorative genius that we have around us and to think about its continuing influence in contemporary life. They have come to enjoy the green spaces that are such an essential part of this complex, reflecting the profound harmony that can ideally unite our natural and our built environments. And now, as a new Museum is born on this site, visitors will be able to learn in greater depth why these legacies were built, how they served the court and society more generally, and what they have meant since.

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India Today Interview (2nd), Sandeep Unnithan, ‘What keeps him on course with reviving cultural heritage in developing world’ (Delhi, India)

I think what drives our network is to enable people to manage their destinies. Once they manage their destinies, you will see, generally speaking, a take-off situation. It’s when they cannot manage their destinies and cannot achieve a level of economic independence that they are indebted in a terrible way or are subject to climate change because they are in agriculture or because they are high-risk and they have an earthquake — these are situations which we try to assist. We are not interested in philanthropy in a Western terminology as I would call it, because philanthropy or what they call it, charity, is not our notion of development. Our notion of development is to assist people to go from a notion of an unsatisfactory position of development to an autonomous position. That to us is what is important. Once they are autonomous, our role is finished. They can manage their destiny….

I think about what I used to read about India, China — you remember, the word most used by the Western media was “basket-case” (laughs). I think over and muse over the stupidity of that word, and how silly it looks today, in relation to India and China. I wonder where the basket is nowadays, probably it is moving to other places.

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Inauguration Ceremony for the Restoration of Humayun’s Tomb (Delhi, India)

The word “partnership,” in fact, could be the watchword of this celebration. What we honour today, above all else is the spirit of partnership in which this work has unfolded.

In my view, an Ethic of Partnership must be at the centre of any successful project of this sort. Among other things, an Ethic of Partnership means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside, so that public-private partnerships can thrive as an essential keystone for effective development.

The role of governments, including municipalities, is essential, of course, in providing an “enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone. A creative mix of participants is needed: corporations and development agencies, foundations and universities, faith communities and local community groups.

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Preface to ‘The Museum of the Horse’ edited by Philip Jodidio (Aiglemont)

I have become convinced that the human and economic action implied in the conservation or rehabilitation of cultural heritage is closely related, no matter where they occur…. The renewal or restoration of a place of culture always implies the necessity of considering the economic potential destined to ensure the sustainability of the effort in the long term. The concept is simple. The complexity lies in the need to develop a strategy and a management model that will ensure sustainable economic development over the long term….

The whole idea is to give Chantilly new life, to put it back on the map; indeed, to put it on the map as one of France’s great cultural centres. It probably has the second best collection after the Louvre of various types of works of art…. The idea was to show Chantilly, as the Duc d’Aumale had asked, to the largest number of people possible. It was necessary to wake up this city, to coordinate the action of those responsible for the racecourse, the Chateau, the buildings and the park, the city, and the Ministry of Culture. The Museum of the Horse is an integral part of this scheme. The kings of France came to Chantilly to hunt, the Grandes Ecuries are the rival of the Royal Stables at Versailles, and the Hippodrome saw the birth of horse racing in France.

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UNESCO Conference on Culture and Development Keynote Address (Hangzhou, China)

For all of these journeys [of cultural projects], the development process has been long and complex, but filled with stimulating lessons. Let me briefly summarise five of them.

First, these cultural projects depend upon an ethic of partnership. This means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside. The concept of public-private partnership is an essential keystone for effective cultural development. The role of governments, including municipalities, is fundamental in providing what we often term “an enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone…. I have one more comment to make about partnerships. It is absolutely essential that effective partnerships are maintained throughout the life of a project, including the post-completion period….

This discussion leads me to a second conclusion: while cultural development often begins with physical legacies, planning must focus well beyond the cultural goals. We cannot somehow assume that a favourable social and economic impact will flow naturally as a by-product of cultural commitments. Issues relating to the quality of life must be considered from the beginning and monitored throughout the project’s life.

A third point in this list of lessons learned is that the engagement of the local community from the earliest stages is imperative for success. Cultural endeavours, in particular, involve risks that go beyond external, economic factors. Their progress can depend heavily on variable qualities of human nature, including the pride and confidence of the peoples involved….

There is a fourth point that is also special to historic restoration projects. That is the fact that we can never be sure just what we will encounter as the work of rediscovery moves along. There are many unknowns going in, and we must be ready for surprises….

Let me finally highlight a fifth lesson. Planning for such projects must anticipate how they will operate on a continuing basis after they are completed…. Up-front investment will be on everyone’s mind at the start. But our financial strategies should include eventual income streams that will sustain the project over the long run. One of the least happy outcomes for any cultural initiative is that it becomes a net drain on the local population.

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Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Government of Kenya Agreement to Rehabilitate Nairobi City Park Signing Ceremony (Nairobi, Kenya) ·· incomplete

[S]topping a productive initiative simply because it might go on another six months or it might require additional financing, is extremely short sighted. What is important, is to complete it, to complete it well …

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‘A Life in the Service of Development’ published in Politique Internationale (Paris, France)

Practically no countries [sic] in Asia, Africa or the Middle East have a political landscape rooted in a strong two-party system as do many Western democracies. The probable consequence is that in many if not most countries of the developing world, coalition government will be omnipresent in the decades ahead. Yet few of these countries have any established experience with coalition governance (this is true of even the most powerful countries of the industrialised world). This critical challenge will become even more complex in countries where functioning compromises must be found between secular and theocratic forces.

A possible common ground could be found if all the political forces accepted over-arching responsibility to nourish a cosmopolitan ethic among their peoples. This would be an ethic for all peoples, one that offers equitable and measurable opportunities for the improvement of their lives, measured in terms of their own criteria for quality living. Clearly, different peoples will have different visions about a desirable quality of life, in urban versus rural areas, for example.

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‘Prospecting the Past, Inspiring the Future’, Preface to ‘The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration’ edited by Philip Jodidio (Aiglemont)

My effort to defend the value of culture, through the Aga Khan Development Network, and specifically through its dedicated agency, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, focuses its activities in four main areas: the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; the Aga Khan Music Initiative; and Museum Projects.

These activities, which are themselves subdivided into a number of subsidiary programmes in many countries, obey four key principles. Firstly, they seek to increase the beneficiaries’ independence, to involve local communities, and to secure the support of public and private partners. Secondly, they are carried out in poor environments where there are considerable centrifugal, sometimes even conflicting, forces at play. Thirdly, they are designed to have maximum beneficial impact on the economies of the populations involved and their quality of life in the broadest sense of the term. Finally, they are planned in the long term, over a period of up to twenty-five years, enabling them to become self-sufficient both financially as well as in terms of human resources.

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‘His Royal Highness the Aga Khan National Park’ Opening Ceremony (Bamako, Mali)

Today, parks meet the needs of many city-dwellers wanting to relax in a natural environment. This explains the success among local communities of parks already created by AKTC. Experience shows that these urban parks are a vital public facility, frequented by city-dwellers in their hundreds of thousands. The Cairo park, for example, now receives more than 2 million visitors a year….

The National Park of Mali is also one of the largest urban parks on the African continent, and a remarkable achievement in several respects:

  • it preserves an ecosystem of priceless value with the arboretum dating from the 1930s, which includes the most beautiful species of trees and is today shown in its full glory once again;
  • it expresses a new landscape architecture, harmoniously combining the characteristics of a botanical garden that had fallen into disuse with a contemporary planning concept for public parks in major cities;
  • it includes a garden of medicinal plants, reflecting Mali’s ancestral knowledge in this field;
  • the architecture of the buildings and entrance gateways, of the restaurant and the sports centre, is distinctively contemporary, while displaying its African roots in the use of traditional materials combined with advanced technologies, especially in the roofs and the technical services. This is the work of Diébédo Francis Kéré, an Aga Khan Award for Architecture recipient in 2004 …

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Ismaili Centre, Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park Foundation Stone Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

As our plans began to take shape, we came to realise that the Museum’s focus on the arts of Islam will make it a unique institution in North America, contributing to a better understanding of Islamic civilisations — and especially of the plurality within Islam and of Islam’s relationship to other traditions. It will be a place for sharing a story, through art and artefacts, of highly diverse achievements — going back over 1,400 years. It will honour the central place within Islam of the search for knowledge and beauty. And it will illuminate the inspiration which Muslim artists have drawn from faith, and from a diverse array of epics, from human stories of separation and loss, of love and joy — themes which we know reverberate eloquently across the diverse cultures of humanity.

In a world in which some speak of a growing clash of civilisations, we believe the Museum will help address what is not so much a clash of civilisations, as it is a clash of ignorances. The new Museum will have a strong educational vocation: it will be a place for active inquiry, for discussion and research, for lectures and seminars, and for an array of collaborative programs with educational institutions and with other museums.

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Khorog City Park Opening Ceremony (Khorog, Tajikistan)

Access to green spaces is clearly an important value for the residents of Khorog. Our vision for the Park is that visitors will truly think of the time they spend here as “quality time” — in the fullest sense of that word — moments in their lives during which their spirits will be deeply enriched, hours filled with experiences that they will both enjoy and remember as times of blessing.

That will happen in part because of the music and dance and other cultural events that will be presented here — especially in the new open-air theatre. It will happen in part because of the group discussions and lively conversations that will take place here and the children who will play here — swimming in the summer, for example, and skating in the winter. It will happen in part because of the great celebrations that will take place here, including holiday ceremonies and festivals. And it will also happen because this will be a wonderful setting for individual reflection and contemplation, inspired by the beauty of this place — including the sounds and the sight of running water, in itself a mysterious, ever-changing and always-inspiring natural force. We see Khorog Park as a place of continuity — playing an intimate role from the earliest weeks of a child’s life until that child grows to become a grown-up with his or her own family. And we also see it as a place of change — a park for all seasons of the annual calendar — transforming itself to capture the particular beauty of each particular time of the year.

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Restored Forodhani Park Opening Ceremony (Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania)

The accomplishments we celebrate today, then, are a part of an ongoing story — and it is a story which has counterparts in many places around the world. In Cairo, in Damascus and Aleppo, in Delhi and Lahore, in Kabul and Bamako, in Mopti, Djenne and Timbuktu, and along the ancient Silk Route, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, through its Historic Cities Programme, has worked to restore a series of major cultural landmarks.

We undertake these projects, in part, because they can reinforce a sense of identity within proud communities, providing gateways to cultural understanding for local citizens and for visitors alike. But there is more to the matter than that. These cultural initiatives, in each case, have also been accompanied by a social and economic rationale, so that the entire project works to improve the well being of the people who live in these areas. How does this happen? It happens when many components come together — like pieces of a complex puzzle….

Our mandate is that no such project should require future support from government or any other institution, but should stand on its own, as an entirely independent engine of community progress.

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Acceptance Address – Grand Mécène (Grand Patron) and Grand Donateur (Grand Donor) from the French Ministry of Culture (Paris, France)

[Google translation] For my part, beyond the affection for France as my family has expressed for generations, I want, personally being involved in this project, thank your beautiful country for welcoming me so warmly. In fact, my personal and institutional links with France are of such quality that over the years, France is becoming the centre of my activities, including policy development to benefit the poorest people on the planet.

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Address to the Global Philanthropy Forum (Washingon D.C., USA + [Canada])

[Why have our development] efforts over five decades not borne greater fruit? Measured against history, where have things gone wrong? Given the progress we have made in so many fields, why have we been so relatively ineffective in sharing that progress more equitably, and in making it more permanent?

My response centres on one principal observation: I believe the industrialised world has often expected developing societies to behave as if they were similar to the established nation states of the West, forgetting the centuries, and the processes which moulded the Western democracies. Forgotten, for one thing, is the fact that economic development in Western nations was accompanied by massive urbanisation.

Yet today, in the countries of Asia and Africa where we work, over 70 percent of the population is rural. If you compare the two situations, they are one and a half to two and half centuries apart. Similarly, the profound diversity of these impoverished societies, infinitely greater than that among nascent European nation states, is too often unrecognised, or under-estimated, or misunderstood. Ethnic, religious, social, regional, economic, linguistic and political diversities are like a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.

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Address to the Avignon Forum ‘The value and importance of cultural diversity and its role in promoting peace and development’ (Avignon, France)

In a world that claims to be globalised, there are some who might regard cultural standardisation as natural, even desirable. For my part, I believe that marks of individual and group cultural identity generate an inner strength which is conducive to peaceful relations. I also believe in the power of plurality, without which there is no possibility of exchange. In my view, this idea is integral to the very definition of genuine quality of life….

I want to talk to you today about my efforts to defend these cultures, through the Aga Khan Development Network, and specifically through its dedicated agency, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. [The Trust’s activities] obey three key principles:

  • to increase the beneficiaries’ independence,
  • to involve local communities, and
  • to secure the support of public and private partners.

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Interview featured in PBS/E2 Series’ ‘A Garden in Cairo’ (USA) ·· incomplete

There is an often quoted ayat [of the Qur’an] which says that you should leave the world in a better environment than you found it. You have a responsibility of legacy of God’s creation of the world, to improve that legacy from generation to generation. So there’s an ethical premise to it.

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