Idrija: How the young are upgrading its heritage

Matevž Straus
Community engagement, Education, Youth oriented
Intangible, Tangible
  • Share this story:
Selected Story

Related Info


What happens when a young sociologist, a linguist, an architect, a tourist guide and a marketeer decide to rethink the cultural heritage of their small former mining town, nowadays a UNESCO World Heritage Site? The story of Idrija 2020 Association is the story of elevating cultural heritage into new dimensions. It is the story of creating new stories attracting the young and bringing people together. It took place, this story, on a local level, however, it has not failed to encompass European perspective.

It was 2012, and the global economic crisis - that hit Slovenia with a delay - was in full swing. Our student years have been ending and so did our engagement in a local student club. We, young enthusiasts, have successfully transferred initiated projects, such as a film festival, literary evenings, weekend concerts, and know-how to a new generation that was about to take them to a whole new level with new contents and larger audiences. Although we were about to enter the job market and ‘adult life’, we still wanted to contribute to our hometown, a rather small former mining (and today UNESCO World Heritage Site) town of Idrija in the west of Slovenia.

But how to contribute in a meaningful way? How to create an impact?, were thus the main questions that we wanted to address. The five of us, a sociologist, a linguist, an architect, a tourist guide and a marketer, all highly educated and native to this small town, have established Idrija 2020 Association with a mission to tackle the biggest challenge of UNESCO town Idrija: brain drain. We have built on a study with 330 young participants we conducted in 2011. This study identified three main reasons behind the outmigration of youth: 1) lack of jobs that match young people’s aspirations and education (80 % of jobs are in industry, contrary to most metropolitan cities with high shares of services), 2) young people have no place to meet and create their own programme, and 3) municipal (youth) policies do not deal with youth topics and problems.

Starting small, we firstly organised a torchlit night walk to ore smelting plant’s chimney above Idrija (as part of EHD), a Jane’s Walk around Idrija’s hidden abandoned mining facilities, hiding geocaches near little known heritage sites and inviting people from around the world for a treasure hunt… We continued with a series of lectures on social entrepreneurship and innovation, organised a guided tour that lead us 120 metres below surface, straight to the lowest still accessible point of Idrija Mercury mine and a community-building event with former miners and young generations, set on steam-engine pump… To reach a wider audience and connect with decision-makers, we partnered with our younger colleagues from a student club and initiated a “TBI magazine, magazine for the future of the city” - a first youth-run magazine on youth topics. Addressing the outmigration, hidden potentials and initiated projects, the magazine depicted our view of the town, expectations and engagement of young inhabitants. It worked. Our goal was achieved, the local politicians and decision-makers started to listen to us. Our years-long dedication to establish a youth center that would unite the local young population was becoming a reality - the municipality agreed on providing a 150 m2 space and funding for the first Slovenian youth center that would be established and run as a partnership between three different youth associations (students, scouts, and us, the visionaries).

In parallel, we were commissioned to prepare a Youth Strategy of the Municipality of Idrija defining 16 tasks until 2020. These included establishing a coworking space and entrepreneurship programme (established in 2017), temporary housing for young (pilot action with 2 flats in 2017), supporting the youth center (in 2018, 150 m2 were extended to a whole former convent that hosts also a youth-run youth hostel)… TBI, “To Bo Idrija” (meaning “This will be Idrija”) became our header for all projects related to a new vision of UNESCO World Heritage Site Idrija and reached its peak in 2016, when we’ve organised an urbanistic workshop “TBI: Youth, City and Heritage”. The project gathered more than 30 young people from 7 countries worked for half a year on sociological, spatial, economic, environmental and cultural analysis of Idrija and proposed a 3-mission vision for the future of the town in the 21st Century. With exhibitions in former mining shaft, Museum for Architecture and Design in Ljubljana, on the streets of Idrija, and online (, it became the decades-awaited rethinking of the towns future and strategic orientation. As such it was integrated and expanded in municipal Innovative Strategy of Sustainable Development 2011-2025 that we were co-created after one of our members was employed by the Municipality of Idrija to work on youth policies and long-term strategies.

In our hometown, we have not only participated in providing strategic visions. We have also been active on a practical level. To demonstrate how annual exhibitions of traditional lacemaking (today part of UNESCO’s intangible heritage) can be engaging, modern and attractive to young people, we’ve invited five young designers to work with us on a small exhibition. Each of the designers was given three different music videos, from punk-rock to pop and swing songs, that were the main inspiration for a new lace creation. Set in a small fully-dark cellar, with only 5 LED lights illuminating 5 lace creations and associated music videos on tablets, the exhibition proved that with unconventional ideas and collaboration, traditional crafts like lacemaking can be an attraction - for young and old. The success of our approach and positive feedback lead us to create a new brand of jewelry, inspired by traditional Idrija lace-making. The Idria Lace brand (today known as Idriamant - was created through a collaboration between a young designer and experienced lacemakers. The list of activities goes on - e.g. counting, mapping and analysing traditional miners’ houses and preparing a catalogue of renovation measures as well as proposing new approach to renovation that respects the heritage yet creates living spaces for the 21st century … We’ve received several awards for our work, while in 2014, the President of the Republic of Slovenia awarded Idrija the “Youth-Friendly Municipality Certificate”.

When the European Commission published a call to “re-think local” as part of 2018 European Social Innovation Competition, it made us think: what if we do what we know best in a professional and focused manner? What if we inspire others to do similar things elsewhere? These thoughts gave birth to HeritageLab - a concept for a specialised incubator, where young people create new products and services, based on local heritage. Its mission is to put in practice the European Cultural Heritage Strategy for 21st Century by using principles of creativity, accessibility and digital transformation (in partnership with High Performance Computing-company Arctur). HeritageLab won the European Social Innovation Competition and is currently being prepared for kickoff. After walking a long way, full of small-scale actions as well as strategic planning and initiation of financially sustainable projects, this is where we are now. With HeritageLab we are about to enter a new period - a period, in which we aim to inspire more (young) people, transfer our good practices to other locations and initiate long-term sustainable programmes, bringing heritage from the past to the future.

Share this story. Support this story. Be a part of this story. Join us on our mission.

European Dimension

Despite seemingly very local nature of our activities, we always had in mind the bigger picture. Years before the European Cultural Heritage Strategy for 21st Century we have spontaneously lived it - we, young inhabitants surrounded by cultural heritage, have always felt that cultural heritage has more dimensions - from cultural, social, to economic and environmental. Moreover, for us, cultural heritage was never just ours - it was everybody’s, firstmost it was of miners and mining families of Idrija, but it was also numerous scientists and engineers coming from Central Europe to work in Idrija, of people of Almaden (Spain), of Monte Amiata (Italy), of Luis San Potosi (Mexico), of Banska Stiavnica (Slovakia), of Vienna (Austria), of Trbovlje, Zagorje, Jesenice (Slovenia), of all the mining towns in the world, of mercury marketplaces such as Amsterdam and Antwerp, of ports of Trieste, Genova, Malaga and Cadiz, of those that experienced the destructive power of mercury such as Minamata (Japan) …It is of everyone on the world.

Idrija’s heritage is unique, but integral part of common European and world heritage. Our heritage of mercury made possible the Baroque, the rise of European banking, advancement in alchemy and later chemistry and physics, new discoveries in medicine and botanics, and development of European capitals, but also led to enslavement and annihilation of several indiginous tribes and nature exploitation of Americas, destroyed thousands of miners’ families, and left a dark stain on nature. When one sees its cultural heritage in this light, one becomes a humanist, an European. We acknowledged this in all of our activities - by inviting people of 7 nationalities to shape the vision for this small town, by featuring foreign lacemakers in our magazine, by linking lacemaking to great traditions of textile industry in the north of Italy, by including groups of all backgrounds, especially minorities and people with disabilities ...

Legal body/representative

Društvo za mladinski razvoj Idrija 2020

Matevž Straus, president

Description of the project

To build on the mission of European Heritage Stories and “do what we know best and inspire others to do similar things elsewhere”, we propose to organise a 3-day hackathon (interactive conference) on “Cultural Heritage as Social Innovation for Better Communities” - called “HeritageHack”. In the last 7 years of our work we have gathered many experiences, inspiring stories, partners (such as Arctur’s innovative approach to digital transformation of the sector, called “Tourism 4.0 Heritage+”), thoughts and awarded approaches, that we wish to share in a new and engaging way with changemakers, local communities and GLAM institutions - local, national and wider European. We envision a hackathon (“hacking marathon”) that would bring together institutions and (social) innovators and lead them through a process of social innovation, where - contrary to normal hackathons with data as the main source - cultural heritage will be the main source of innovation. Mixed groups will be co-creating new products and services, strengthening hybrid skillset (heritage expertise + design thinking and new business models). Participants will have unlimited access to a set of (digital) tools to help them develop their ideas - such as 360-degree (live) camera, a 3D scanner and 3D printer, Augmented Reality-builder, Heritage+ Story-telling & -doing Canvas ... - as well as specialised mentors, such as digital and social innovators, storytellers, and heritage experts.

Legacy of the project

Positive legacy will be threefold: New products and services, inspired by cultural heritage, will be developed to the phase of proof of concept. After the event, the selected and most promising ideas will be further developed within HeritageLab:Idrija and tested in our sandbox before the implementation. Strengthening hybrid skills and competences that blend heritage expertise with design thinking, digital business model development, storytelling and storydoing… of participants that will take these new insights and approaches back to their communities and institutions. HeritageHack will showcase that cultural heritage can be an attractive field and far from rigid and unchanging field. This notion and tools for making it such will be shared beyond the sole participants - the event will be live streamed on social media, while interviews with participants, tools, protocols and methodologies and inspiring examples will be presented on the sub-website in such a way that other EHD locations will be able to organise them.

Budget breakdown

We are requesting 10.000 EUR. The amount would be spent on: Mentors’ fees [cca. 3000 EUR] Food and accommodation for participants [cca. 1500 EUR] Setting the space - planned in the former mining facility [cca. 2000 EUR] Promotion materials and costs [cca. 1000 EUR] Rent of equipment and material costs for it (e.g. 3D printer material) [cca. 2000 EUR] Other [cca. 500 EUR]

Similar stories

The Music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Joseph Bologne de Saint-George was the son of an aristocratic, white colonial ruler on the island of Guadeloupe and a 16 year old black slave from Senegal. Joseph was sent to the homeland France by his father to profit from a better and more profound education. Soon, he became known for his violin playing, his own compositions as well as one of the best fencers of Europe, proofing his skills in turnaments with illustrious people of his time like the Prince of Wales or the Chevalière d’Eon. He was named colonel to lead a troup of black soldiers in Guadeloupe during the French Revolution in order to help pacifying the islands. He was friends with some of the greatest composers of his time like Joseph Haydn and Chrsitoph Willibald Gluck and had conducted new works by Mozart, when the latter one lived in Paris. Although he socialized with the highest nobility, even with the king and queen of France themselves, his own aristocratic titles were not fully granted to him, due to his being a “mulatto.” His pieces for violin and piano have never been performed on a modern grand piano and have, for the first time, now being restored by German pianist Jens Barnieck ( and French violinist Romuald Grimbert-Barré ( in order to be performed in Germany, France (including overseas départements) and elsewhere in Europe as well as being recorded by the two musicians for the toccata classics label in London (UK). The musical scores will be available through a publishing house either in Germany or in the UK. Publication date is Autumn 2019. Lecture recitals, including an actor, who reads from the novel “Joseph, der schwarze Mozart” by Jan Jacobs Mulder were already programmed and are scheduled for future performances.


Diversity, Education, Cross-frontier collaboration

Read More
Silk production and the art of making Konavle embroidery

Traditional silk production and art of making Konavle embroidery are well preserved ancient skills, still alive in region of Konavle, Dubrovnik hinterland. It is also a bridge that connects us with Medieval identities in as much connecting us with all other European ethnicums and their need of expressing information throughout textile skills. Throughout the Europe we trace leftovers of the huge cultural expression from preindustrial time. Nevertheless in Konavle region we have it mostly preserved. It's not only about clothing, it's not about being dressed, it's about identification throughout the language, identification throughout unverbal communication carried upon the art of stitching. This is a story about dowry. This is a story about pre marriage preparation. This is a story about women intangible.


Community engagement, Education

Read More
The lighthouse on Point Zero

On the southwest coast of Norway, as close to British mainland as possible, there is an amphidromic point with no tidal variations. The turning of the globe,  the moon´s tidal systems in the Atlantic ocean and English channels balance each other all the time, year round, and make a point zero. Its rare, just two nautical miles outside the restored Viberodden lighthouse at Egersund.  At the same spot, there are stories of international technology triumphs , exciting war histories and wrecks.


Education, Cross-frontier collaboration

Read More