Aida Muleneh UNESCO

Aida Muluneh’s 2016 photograph “The Departure” featured on the cover of the UNESCO Re|Shaping Cultural Policies Report

Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh’s The Departure serves as an arresting cover for UNESCO’s 2018 report Re|Shaping Cultural Policies. Muleneh created the image as part of her 2016 series ‘The World in 9’—about which she wrote (here)

In this world, we are idealists seeking perfection but living in a reality which does not afford us that balance. Life is unpredictable and imperfect – we must conquer these challenges with strength and endurance because the world within us and the world knocking on our door, bears the unknown future.—Aida Muluneh

The gateway to Muluneh’s site opens with the tagline “Photographer / Artist / Cultural entrepreneur” (here).  While the idea of the “cultural entrepreneur” is increasingly familiar to those who work as and with artists, the idea deserves far more awareness, especially among those who consume cultural production—which is to say “everyone” in today’s digital world. Indeed, this gets to the heart of UNESCO’s new report.

First, a brief history lesson. In 2005 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) created the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Think of it as in international treaty on the importance of diversity in human culture. The document starts with the establishment of 21 guiding principles, the first four of which are:

  • Affirming that cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity,
  • Conscious that cultural diversity forms a common heritage of humanity and should be cherished and preserved for the benefit of all,
  • Being aware that cultural diversity creates a rich and varied world, which increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values, and therefore is a mainspring for sustainable development for communities, peoples and nations,
  • Recalling that cultural diversity, flourishing within a framework of democracy, tolerance, social justice and mutual respect between peoples and cultures, is indispensable for peace and security at the local, national and international levels…

The text of the convention (which you can read in full via this PDF) continues to establish an international protocol for the recognition and protection of cultural producers.

The four goals of the convention are:

  • Support sustainable systems of governance for culture
  • Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase the mobility of artists and cultural professionals
  • Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks
  • Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms

Between 2005 and 2017, over 140 sovereign jurisdictions signed on to the convention, including a few that signed with conditions (source). While one can understand that the culturally myopic former and current Republican administrations would not join the international community of signatories, it should be noted that the United States did not ratify the convention during the Obama administration either. To be clear, I remain disappointed that my homeland remains one of the few non-signatories to this international effort. (For an alphabetical list of signatories, click here.)

Jumping to the present, UNESCO’s 2018 global report is a detailed consideration of progress made and challenges faced in the achievement of the objectives cited in the 2005 convention. Given the breadth and depth of important issues related to cultural diversity, the full report is more than 250 pages long. Fortunately it is punctuated with beautiful illustrations and helpful infographics. You can download a summary PDF of the report or a full PDF of the report. [The reports are also available in French here.]

As a taste, I present the key findings for each of the ten chapters below. Among the findings that I find most interesting are:

  • The cultural value chain is rapidly being transformed from a pipeline-like configuration to a network model – and few countries have a strategy in place to deal with these changes. (Chapter 3)
  • While the global North provides the main market destinations for artists and cultural practitioners from the global South, access to these destinations is becoming increasingly difficult in the current global security climate. (Chapter 5)
  • Across the board, the environmental impact of cultural production and artistic practice is not yet sufficiently taken into account. (Chapter 8)
  • The number of cities providing safe havens for artists at risk has continued to grow, reaching over 80 across the world. (Chapter 10)

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