Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


“Culture to get out of the crisis … yes but how ?”, by Irina Bokova, Director-General of Unesco

In a tribune published on December 5, Laure Kaltenbach and Olivier Le Guay provided an excellent plea about culture as lever of economic growth. The UNESCO is delighted about this recognition of the link between culture and development and if it is possible to continue the reflection, we would like to offer the testimony of several decades dedicated to the use of culture for sustainable development.


A new creative economy is emerging at the global level. Many countries have understood the interest of culture in order to fight against poverty and stimulate the economy. They dedicate important efforts to it. It is accurate in China, Malaysia, Indonesia. The State secretary of the Chinese government, Liu Yandong, recently said she wanted to build 5000 new museums in China next year. I remember that I asked her to repeat this figure, as I thought I had misunderstood. In India, the cinematographic industry is a strategic sector, as important as steel industry and information technology. The creative industries are growing in the Middle-East, in Africa and in South America. Culture stopped being the poor relation of economy. Yet, a question is still important, particularly in Europe: which policies should we adopt, and how to adopt them?

Obviously, fully enjoying the potential of culture requires to not reduce it to its monetary dimension. The cultural goods are sources of employment and revenue, but they are not only goods. They carry values, identities; they are driving forces of inclusion and individual and collective blossoming. This fundamental aspect is important for the societies in crisis because the difficulties they are going through are not only economic, but also social. Crisis affects the solidarity mechanisms, and arouses the search for scapegoats, within and between the countries. Minorities, immigrants, underprivileged are accused. In this context, getting out of the crisis requires the strengthening of the social link, especially in pluralist societies. The enhancement of cultural diversity is an answer.

The UNESCO can also prove that the international recognition of unknown traditions often has an impact on the whole country, where the citizens proudly adopt their heritage. If a European country like Poland chose to invest more than 1.5 billion Euros of European structural funds in its museum, school and concert and library infrastructures, it was for eco-touristic reasons and to give those regions a better esteem of themselves. This also applies to the wonderful initiative of the Louvre-Lens in France or the construction of 360 new art centers in Brazil.

Enhancing culture also required more than public or private investments. Every efficient cultural strategy required the adoption of public policy aiming at protecting the heritage and developing the cultural industries. Several international conventions establish frameworks and enable the sharing of good practices. They required years of work. We still need to integrate them into local policies and they is a long way to go. The statistical tools and the studies about the impact of culture on growth – that the UNESCO helps to develop – are promising but remain embryonic.

Without talking about the programs of training, artistic education, simplification of the visas to facilitate the circulation of artists and creators. During the last summit of French-speaking countries, the French President of the Republic declared that he wanted the French-speaking territory to be a space of free circulation of the creators. Indeed, it is a key aspect of the success: a culture becomes richer with diversity. The mixing can accelerate the renewing of the ideas and the international cooperation plays a crucial role, also to galvanize the local cultures.

The UNESCO is fully dedicated to this aspect, through the implementation of several conventions, in particular about the protection of the global heritage (Convention 1972), the support to public policies promoting the diversity of cultural expression (Convention 2005), or the immaterial cultural heritage (2003). The UNESCO is currently examining the applications to the humanity’s immaterial heritage. But whereas the acquisition of  a UNESCO ‘label’ is celebrated in the media as a motive of national proud, the long-term work around it is generally not attracting as much media and political interest. For example, the recognition of the Breton fest-noz is about supporting the music and disc jobs, the relationships between generations through the traditional dances, protecting a natural landscape …

If we succeed in convincing the public authorities, the companies and the citizens that those challenges are crucial, culture will get us out of the crisis, and establish the conditions for the sustainable economic and social development. This is the purpose of the international UN conferences in Hangzhou and Bali about culture and development in 2013.

Many European countries currently focus on the necessity of a rapid growth, culture is also about long-term. The UNESCO is delighted to notice that the sites of global heritage – 338 in the European Union – attract tourists and generate revenues. But this long-term attractiveness but be guaranteed.

At a time when the world tries to reconcile rapid, sustainable and inclusive growth, it is normal that several countries bet on the human capital of culture and education to succeed. When the new President of Mexico declared that he wanted to be a major actor of the Spanish-speaking culture, the President of Indonesia answered that cultural diversity was the first innovation source of the country. A movement is up: which role does Europe want to play?


Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO