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Sustainable financial management of tangible cultural heritage sites

Rand Eppich (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain)
José Luis García Grinda (Patrimonio Arquitectónico, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 13 June 2019

Issue publication date: 8 July 2019




There are many threats to cultural heritage including armed conflict and natural disasters such as earthquakes, fire and flooding. It is understandable that these dramatic events frequently capture the world’s attention. However, a far more considerable danger is inadequate management a lack of financial resources to conduct continuous conservation and maintenance. The purpose of this paper is to gain an understanding of the current state of financial sustainability at a limited selection set of tangible immovable cultural heritage sites and investigate why this critical aspect is deficient. Case studies have been identified where management improved, and a level of financial sustainability is achieved.


To improve the conservation of tangible immovable cultural heritage sites, a specific definition of financial sustainability is required, which significantly differs from the management of for-profit activities and even other non-profit cultural institutions such as museums, and takes into account the special requirements for conservation and education, additional values, site access and the wide variety of places that range from archaeological sites to single structures. The methodology began with researching the definition of financial sustainability from non-profit institutions then refining through the application it to a defined and limited selection set of World Heritage properties. World Heritage properties were selected, given the wealth of data readily available. Following this larger selection, several evaluation case studies were selected for further investigation including an analysis of the management circumstances and how greater financial sustainability was achieved. The investigation initially relied on secondary sources including academic articles, thesis, management plans, nomination dossiers, reactive monitoring mission reports, newspaper articles, periodic reporting and required State of Conservation Reports. The case study investigation relied on primary sources including observational site visits and interviews using an informal questionnaire. Findings were later verified by follow up interviews.


The research led to a definition of financial sustainability specifically for tangible cultural heritage sites that included five components, namely, management planning, revenue identification, expenditure analysis, administration and strategic planning, and, most importantly, alignment and support of cultural, educational and conservation mission. A majority of World Heritage properties in this study fall short of this definition of financial sustainability and do not sufficiently address this issue. Research revealed that there is a need for more dialogue with informed data on the financial aspects of managing tangible cultural heritage sites as most locations studied are not able to efficiently manage funds or take full advantage of possible opportunities. However, a few sites have achieved greater financial sustainability. The research describes the identified five critical circumstances in further defining financial sustainability: a conducive and open planning environment, knowledge and education, positive perceptions concerning the importance of finance, managerial autonomy and public interest. These circumstances permitted better management of existing funding and an environment for innovation.

Research limitations/implications

Research limitations during the initial study included a hesitation or unwillingness to discuss financial details, a general lack of statistics, a lack of knowledge related to finance, a prejudice against the topic and a concern over the commodification of cultural heritage. However, as the case studies identified achieved greater financial sustainability, this was less of a limitation. Additional limitations included the necessity to conduct interviews via telephone and in European languages, English, Spanish and Italian. The final limitation was that this study only focused on single tangible cultural heritage sites and excluded larger sites such as entire cities and intangible or movable cultural heritage.

Practical implications

The circumstances, which comprise the definition, identified during the research lead to a number of possibilities for improving the financial sustainability. The first is not to place emphasis on a management plan but in fostering an environment that encourages financial planning. The second circumstance is to improve the knowledge and education of finance for site managers. Third, a positive perception of finance, standard business practice and surplus generating activities must occur. Fourth, financial management must be devolved to individual sites. Finally, the public must be involved to ensure financial sustainability. There must be initiatives to frequently include the local community and encourage participation.

Social implications

Most cultural heritage sites are financially dependent upon the state, and this will likely continue, but it is improbable to expect full financial support ad infinitum. Overdependence on highly variable top-down funding leaves cultural heritage vulnerable and open to uncertainty. While it is unrealistic to expect most sites to become financially self-sufficient or that managers will suddenly become entrepreneurs, it is reasonable to expect some improvement. The goal should not be to create a business from cultural heritage but to improve financial management for greater sustainability. Financially sustainability ensures that sites are conserved and maintained for future generations.


The need to preserve cultural heritage is widely recognized by many different segments of society. However, the availability of financial resources to sustain conservation is often deficient or overlooked. Without taking measures for continued financial support, tangible cultural heritage is at risk as preventive maintenance is ignored and essential personnel and their skills are lost. Commodification of cultural heritage is of great concern and, when used as a means of generating income, it can compromise other values. Thus, a critical balancing act must be achieved by those who care about the historic, aesthetic and scientific values.



This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.


Eppich, R. and Grinda, J.L.G. (2019), "Sustainable financial management of tangible cultural heritage sites", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 282-299.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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