Since the 1980s, the Ename 974 Project, jointly sponsored by the Institute for the Archaeological Heritage of the Flemish Community of Belgium (now the Flemish Heritage Institute) and the Province of East-Flanders, has been engaged in an ambitious project of excavations, historical research, and public heritage presentation at the medieval site of Ename, about 25 km south of Ghent in Belgium. Over the years, the Ename 974 Project organised public events and academic workshops and developed new technologies for the public presentation of archaeological and historical heritage.
The positive response to the public interpretation efforts of the Ename 974 Project led, in 1998, to the establishment of the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation, a public, non-profit organisation, also sponsored by the Province of East-Flanders in cooperation with the Flemish Heritage Institute. The founding goal of the Center was to develop and disseminate expertise relating to the public interpretation and sustainable development of archaeological sites, museums, historical monuments and landscapes both in Flanders and at partner sites throughout the world. To that end, a series of scholarly seminars and meetings on this subject were held in Ename and members of the Center participated in conferences and workshops on the same theme in Europe and the US.
A central concern in these discussions of public interpretation and presentation was the matter of standards. Many scholars and heritage professionals were deeply involved in the theme of interpretation, but most were working in isolation. There were no agreed-upon standards for scientific and intellectual integrity, no standards for community involvement and no guidelines or criteria for appropriate mechanisms of funding and management of interpretation and presentation programmes.
Because of this situation, it became apparent that some form of international consensus would be helpful in the continuing development of this field. Jean-Louis Luxen, former Secretary-General of ICOMOS, who had participated in several Ename seminars, was a valuable advisor and suggested that ICOMOS might be the most appropriate institutional framework for the drafting of a potential international charter dealing with interpretation and presentation. During the spring of 2002, the first draft of such a charter was written by the staff of the Ename Center, based on close consultation with M. Luxen and other colleagues, and following the model of earlier charters in the cultural heritage field.