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)

KEY FINDINGS of  UNESCO’s 2018 report Re|Shaping Cultural Policies 

(Click here to download a PDF of the full report.)

Goal 1: Support sustainable systems of governance for culture

Chapter 1: Towards More Collaborative Cultural Governance
Jordi Baltà Portolés 

Key Findings (page 35)

  • The Convention provides inspiration and legitimacy to inform cultural policies and legislation and adapt it to changing times.
  • Implementation of the Convention is beginning to have an impact on collaborative governance and multi-stakeholder policy making, notably in some developing countries and in the fields of the creative economy and cultural education.
  • Significant cultural policy innovations are being implemented by local and regional authorities, while their capacity to implement the Convention in domains such as education, trade and economic development is often limited.
  • There is a correlation between the adoption and implementation of policies backed by direct financial investments across the cultural value chain and the ability of audiences to havegreater access to locally-produced content, which is particularly visible in developing countries.
  • The monitoring and evaluation of results remains rare. The paucity of data makes it difficult to assess the effectiveness of cultural policies in contributing to the diversity of cultural expressions.

Chapter 2: Enlarging Choices: Cultural Content and Public Service Media
Christine M. Merkel 

Key Findings (page 53)

  • Policies to support a diversity of high-quality media content remain highly relevant to the objectives of the Convention, as watching television and listening to radio remain central forms of cultural activity for most people around the world.
  • There have been many substantial improvements in the legislative base for media freedom and diversity, as governments update their public service media goals and systems.
  • Creativity and diversity in both the public service and private media are being enhanced through quota regulations, currently applied by 90 countries around the world.
  • New policy frameworks adapted to the digital context are beginning to respond to the challenges of horizontal and vertical media convergence.
  • Forward-looking public service media policy models that would serve the needs of all individuals and groups and respond to changes in public thinking, as well as processes of convergence, have yet to be implemented.

Chapter 3: Cultural Policies In The Age of Platforms
Octavio Kulesz 

Key Findings (page 69)

  • 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.
  • Very few Parties have designed and implemented digital culture policies that go beyond initiatives undertaken to digitize or strengthen specific nodes of the value chain.
  • In the global South, despite the advantages resulting from mass adoption of mobile broadband, many countries lack infrastructure and are unable to consolidate a market for cultural goods and services in the digital environment.
  • The volume of data circulating on the internet is growing exponentially and revenues are also increasing. In 2016, digital music revenues in the music market grew by 17.7%, driven by a sharp 60.4% increase in the share of streaming revenues. This was the first time that digital revenues made up 50% of the recorded music market.
  • The public sector may entirely lose its agency on the creative scene if a targeted approach to address the rise and market concentration of large platforms or the monopoly on artificial intelligence is not adopted.
  • A new type of relationship between the public sector, the private sector and civil society based upon interactivity, collaboration and the co-construction of policy frameworks has not yet emerged.

Chapter 4: Engaging Civil Society in Cultural Governance
Andrew Firmin 

Key Findings (page 85)

  • The Convention’s goal of supporting sustainable systems of governance for culture can only be achieved through strong civil society participation.
  • Many in civil society believe that policy-making processes lack transparency and that laws and regulations do not sufficiently enable civil society participation.
  • A strong core of civil society is committed to playing its role in improving cultural governance and developing cultural policy.
  • Civil society actors have responded to the Convention by convening their peers, engaging in advocacy, generating and sharing knowledge, and creating new networks.
  • To achieve more, this civil society core needs capacity development support and resources, focusing on policy participation, communication and networking.

Goal 2: Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase the mobility of artists and cultural professionals

Chapter 5: Surviving the Paradoxes of Mobility
Khadija El Bennaoui 

Key Findings (page 107)

  • 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.
  • Visa regulations continue to jeopardize the efforts of cultural institutions and civil society to address the persistent inequalities between the global North and the global South.
  • Restrictions on freedom of movement and mobility of artists are used as tools of repression and censorship.
  • The number of mobility opportunities provided through market access and transnational cultural collaboration has increased, with a renewed interest in South-South mobility.
  • Despite inadequate institutional frameworks and funding structures, new regional networks, exchange platforms and creative hubs have emerged in the global South, thanks to a vibrant and resilient independent arts sector.

Chapter 6: Persisting Imbalances in the Flow of Cultural Goods and Services
Lydia Deloumeaux 

Key Findings (page 125)

  • All developing countries (including China and India) represented an increasing portion of the global flow of cultural goods, and accounted for 45% of global trade of cultural goods in 2014, compared to 25% in 2005.
  • Trade barriers, the scarcity of preferential treatment measures and the limited human and financial capacity continue to hamper the penetration, by developing countries, of markets for cultural goods in the global North.
  • Digital distribution platforms, exchange networks and export strategies, mostly in the audiovisual sector, are helping global South countries enter the international market of cultural goods and services.
  • Domestic quotas are an effective measure to increase national audiovisual production, eventually leading to an increase in exports.
  • The new digital environment urgently requires improved data collection on cultural trade services, in order to support evidence-based policies and trade negotiations.

Chapter 7: The Convention in Other International Forums: A Crucial Commitment
Véronique Guèvremont 

Key Findings (page 143)

  • At least eight bilateral and regional free trade agreements concluded between 2015 and 2017 have introduced cultural clauses or list of commitments that promote the objectives and principles of the 2005 Convention.
  • Although the negotiation of megaregional partnership agreements has left little room for the promotion of the objectives and principles of the 2005 Convention, some Parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) have succeeded in introducing important cultural reservations to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions.
  • While no new Protocols on Cultural Cooperation have been signed between 2015 and 2017, other free trade agreements have introduced provisions to enhance preferential treatment for the broadcasting and audiovisual sectors.
  • The European Union and other regional organizations have taken decisive steps to incorporate the principles of the 2005 Convention when designing policies and strategies for the cultural and creative industries − especially the audiovisual sector − and addressing the challenges of the new digital environment.

Goal 3: Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks

Chapter 8: The Integration of Culture In Sustainable Development
Avril Joffe

Key Findings (page 167)

  • Implementation of the 2005 Convention has contributed to an increased recognition of the role of culture in sustainable development, notably in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
  • Although several international sustainable development programmes include culture as a major area of intervention, the proportion of development aid spent on culture and recreation today is at its lowest for over 10 years.
  • 86% of the Parties that have adopted a national development plan or strategy have included references to the cultural dimension of development. Over two-thirds of these are from the global South.
  • Yet these same countries acknowledge culture primarily as an instrumentality, as a driver of economic or social outputs; only 40% of national development planning documents contain outcomes or actions specific to the goals of the Convention.
  • Across the board, the environmental impact of cultural production and artistic practice is not yet sufficiently taken into account.
  • Cities all around the world are exploring innovative ways of fostering sustainable development through the cultural and creative industries.

Goal 4: Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms

Chapter 9: Gender Equality: Missing in Action
Ammu Joseph

Key Findings (page 189)

  • A multifaceted gender gap persists in almost all cultural fields in most parts of the world. Women are not only severely under-represented in the workforce, particularly in key creative roles and decision-making positions, but they also have less access to resources and face substantial pay gaps.
  • The disparity is not widely recognized but needs to be acknowledged and tackled if truediversity of cultural expressions is to be achieved.
  • The 2005 Convention cannot be properly implemented without actively promoting gender equality among creators and producers of cultural expressions as well as among citizens in terms of access to and participation in cultural life.
  • The gender equality goal set by the Convention calls for both specific measures and, equally importantly, the integration of a gender perspective into all cultural policies and measures.
  • Systematically collected, sex-disaggregated national and global data is urgently required to clarify the situation, increase awareness and understanding, inform policies and plans, and enable monitoring of progress towards gender equality in cultural expressions.
  • Diversity of cultural expressions will remain elusive if women are not able to participate in all areas of cultural life, as creators and producers and as citizens and consumers.

Chapter 10: Promoting the Freedom to Imagine and Create
Sara Whyatt

Key Findings (page 209)

  • Reported attacks on artistic freedom in 2016 perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, mostly against musicians, show a significant rise compared with 2014 and 2015.
  • Progress has been made in understanding the importance of protecting and promoting artistic expressions; some States have made commitments and put in place legislative changes to respect this fundamental freedom.
  • Measures to support the economic and social rights of artists are increasingly appearing in national legislation, especially in Africa.
  • Laws dealing with terrorism and state security, criminal defamation, religion and ‘traditional values’ have been used to curb artistic and other forms of free expression.
  • Monitoring and advocacy for arts freedom have grown, as has the number and capacity of organizations who are engaged, including within the United Nations.
  • The number of cities providing safe havens for artists at risk has continued to grow, reaching over 80 across the world.



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