Culture and Development

12 October 2018, International

In 2015 the United Nations (UN) approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which guides the spending of governments and international agencies – such as the World Bank – on development initiatives over a 15-year period.  Culture had been notably absent in the previous eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which operated from 2000 to 2015, and there was widespread international concern that culture was not recognised as a means to achieve sustainable development, as an issue relevant to the evaluation of development programmes, or as Goal in its own right.

In 2013, to prepare for the drafting of its post-2015 development agenda, the UN initiated a series of talks to review the role of culture in the context of development, the outcomes of which would have a significant impact on public spending on culture. In response to these preparations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Oganization (UNESCO) called on agencies to advocate for the role of culture in sustainable development, and invited IFACCA to attend a major International Congress - Culture: Key to Sustainable Development - held in Hangzhou (China) in May 2013. The Congress provided a global forum for major international stakeholders and the wider global community to discuss the role of culture in sustainable development in view of the post-2015 development framework. The conference was attended by approximately 400 people, including IFACCA’s Executive Director, Sarah Gardner, two members of the IFACCA Board (Bilel Aboudi and Elise Huffer) and then Regional Coordinator for Africa, Mike Van Graan. As a result of the Congress, the final UNESCO declaration included the recommendation that a specific Goal focused on culture be included as part of the post-2015 UN development agenda; one that would be based on heritage, diversity, creativity and the transmission of knowledge, and include clear targets and indicators relating culture to all dimensions of sustainable development.

In the following months, we worked closely with Agenda 21 for Culture, the International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, and Culture Action Europe to develop a document that outlined suggestions for a goal specifically focused on culture. The publication - Culture as a Goal in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (September 2013) - outlined justifications for the inclusion Culture as a goal, put forward targets and indicators, and was submitted to key UN bodies. The suggested wording of the goal was: Ensure cultural sustainability for the wellbeing of all.

In April 2014 the UN's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) released a draft of the goals that were to be priority areas from 2016-2030. Once again, Culture was notably lacking, with only a few references made to its role in development. We believed this omission would make it extremely difficult for countries to elaborate policies and provide funds for arts and culture projects, and  sought to ensure that cogent and convincing arguments were heard at the highest levels of the UN to demonstrate why culture should be included in future development goals. We compiled online resources and we encouraged our members to familiarise themselves with the issues; to communicate their concerns to their relevant government agencies, Ministers for Foreign Affairs and UN delegates; to contribute to UN Development Programme national consultations; to circulate information to their networks and civil society organisations; and to advise us of any news relating to the issues so that we could share information.

In May 2014 we partnered with key international networks to launch a Declaration on the Inclusion of Culture in the Sustainable Development Goals. This document launched the campaign The future we want includes culture, which called on the international community for support and called on governments and policy makers responsible for the post-2015 development agenda to ensure that targets and indicators on culture be included. The campaign was a joint advocacy project between IFACCA, Agenda 21 for Culture, the International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, Culture Action Europe, Arterial Network, International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the International Music Council. The campaign was conducted in several languages and gathered wide support, garnering over 2,000 signatures from organisations and individuals in over 120 countries; it set a new global agenda for culture by gathering and presenting the voices of peoples and civil society on the importance of culture in a unified way. 

Ultimately the campaign enabled a global community to discuss its vision for sustainable development, and offered tangible results. In September 2015 UN Member States formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls on countries to work towards 17 SDGs and 169 targets over the coming 15 years. The new Agenda marked a substantial step forward for sustainable development in a number of fields, particularly for culture, which for the first time is referred to within the framework of SDGs related to education, sustainable cities, food security, the environment, economic growth, sustainable production and consumption patterns, and peaceful and inclusive societies. Following the adoption of the Agenda, IFACCA partnered with fellow campaign leaders across the globe to issue a formal communique that outlined the achievements of the new Agenda, highlighted continuing issues of concern and proposed steps for the future. This communique is available here in English, en francais, and en español.