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Culture is important in World’s Economic Recovery Plan, says Azoulay, UNESCO DG

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Audrey Azoulay

The United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, has said there will be no economic recovery without culture.

She spoke at the 14th session of the Intergovernmental Committee of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which held from February 1 to 6, 2021.

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She said COVID-19 pandemic has caused a crisis in a culture that is both profound and unprecedented. “The pandemic has revealed fundamental challenges, particularly the precariousness of artists, and the risk of standardisation of cultural products if cultural diversity is not promoted. In 2021, as the world celebrates the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development and recovery plans are being negotiated around the world, UNESCO called on states not to ignore culture.”

Azoulay said the upcoming recovery would determine “who we will be in the years to come. Culture cannot be forgotten in national plans, because there will be no economic recovery without culture. UNESCO is mobilised and calls on all actors to embrace these efforts collectively.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cultural and creative industries (CCI) around the world.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and magnified the creative industries’ pre-existing volatility. Due to the complex nature of their work, artists and cultural professionals are particularly affected and lockdown measures around the world directly impact the entire creative value chain – creation, production, distribution and access. To protect and promote a diversity of cultural expressions in these challenging times, governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector have been quick to react with new policies and measures.

The world over, closure measures such as the nightly curfew and the prohibition of cultural events to halt the spread of the virus, have significantly affected the livelihoods of artists and cultural practitioners while limiting cultural production and access to a wide range of cultural expressions.

The crisis has accelerated the digitisation and online consumption of cultural content, creating new and unprecedented challenges for the diversity of cultural expressions. Now, more than ever, the status of artists must be upheld, strengthened, and reinforced through legislative and material means. As decisions taken now are likely to shape our world for years to come, it is imperative to be strategic, drawing on principles from the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) and the Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist (1980).

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As of today, the vast majority of policies and measures have been designed to provide financial relief. Few policies or measures have addressed the underlying issue: the social and economic rights that artists and cultural professionals should enjoy, like so many other workers, including unemployment benefits, health insurance and social security.

The session noted that it was crucial for states to have policies that would protect the social and economic rights of artists and cultural professionals, as well as, to consider adopting appropriate measures, as advocated by the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the Recommendation concerning the status of the artist.

During the committee session, a high-level ResiliArt debate held, celebrating the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, Building Back Better through the Creative Economy.

Participants discussed how artists and creators are adapting in response to the pandemic and stressed that they need greater support from governments, and regional and international organizations.

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The debate brought together Jean-Michel Jarre (musician and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador), Adberrahmane Sissako, (film director) Thomas Steffens, (CEO of Primephonic), Vanja Kaludjercic (Director, International Film Festival Rotterdam), Victoria Contreras (founder and General Director of the Association Conecta Cultura de México) and Alvaro Osmar Narvaez (Secretary of Culture, City of Medelln, Colombia, UNESCO Creative City of Music).

“In this pandemic, we watched films, listened to music and read books. Our museums and theatres are public services. These prime necessities of human life are in danger and we have to ask our governments and ourselves if we want to save the culture. The pandemic should unite us to work together,” said Jarre.

Sissako said: “Many African countries lack the structure and policies that take into account the role of artists in society. Very few artists make money and when a drama like the pandemic happens the consequences are severe for artists and creativity. We must take advantage of this opportunity to recall to public authorities the fragility of humanity without culture.”

At the end of the session, the committee approved funding for initiatives that would boost the cultural and creative industries in developing countries around the world.

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Each project will receive more than $70,000 from the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD). With this year’s attribution, the IFCD will have supported 120 projects in 60 developing countries with over $8.7 million since 2010.

Evaluating Jamaica’s Cultural and Creative Industries, proposed by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), will map the country’s cultural industries to create a sustainable system of cultural governance in Jamaica. Through a gender perspective and an inclusive, community-led approach, the project foresees an economic assessment of the cultural and creative industries and the design of a national strategy to develop the sector.

Cultural Nests, supporting indigenous cultural start-ups, proposed by Mexico’s Centro de Investigación en Comunicación Comunitaria A.C., will promote six indigenous start-ups in three states in Mexico through training programmes, seed funding, a pre-incubation process, and the creation of an e-commerce site.

Strengthening civil society engagement in cultural policy development in Cambodia, proposed by Cambodian Living Arts, will create a new association to represent the cultural and creative industries in Cambodia with the aim of strengthening the capacity of civil society and of those working in the cultural and creative industries, as well as supporting policymaking and advocacy.

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Strengthening the contemporary dance scene in East Africa, proposed by Tanzania’s Muda Africa Organization, will benefit 45 dance artists, particularly women, in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania through the creation of a network and web portal, which will provide choreographic capacity building and undertake policy advocacy.

Building the capacities of women and young creators for an inclusive cultural policy in Honduras, proposed by the Asociación Mujeres en las Artes “Leticia de Oyuela”, will support civil society participation, create a national committee and a knowledge-sharing platform. It also foresees the organization of national encounters.

Gender equality for cultural diversity, proposed by the Association Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia, will undertake mapping, training and mentoring activities to support women starting their own businesses in Serbia. It will also create a cultural and creative industries’ network.

Honduras and United Republic of Tanzania will benefit from the support of the International Fund for Cultural Diversity for the first time this year. Selected from 1,027 applications from 102 countries, the projects will enhance the development of evidence-based cultural policies and measures, boost cultural entrepreneurship in indigenous communities, widen the engagement of civil society, women and youth in cultural policy-making processes, and support the mobility of artists. The projects are intended to strengthen the resilience of the cultural and creative industries, which have been severely hit by COVID-19, and to make culture more accessible to all.

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