No sustainability without culture and the arts

April 6, 2020, 12:08 pm

Confined in our living rooms (if lucky enough), it is time to rethink how we relate to our environment, our economies and our societies. Could lessons we are learning from the current crisis bring us towards a more sustainable, just and equal future, based on solidarity?

#Culturekeepsmesane hashtag is trending on Social Media these days as the cultural content increasingly becomes available online. Virtual museum and gallery tours, theatre and dance performances, free movies and concerts ease our feeling of social isolation in confinement. Access to and participation in (digital) culture helps us to stay home, keeps our mental health stable and increases our sense of well-being in these challenging times. This remarkable generosity of (already precarious) cultural workers helps to mitigate the impacts of the corona emergency on societies. 

The joint OpEd published by the Ministers of Culture of Italy, Spain and the German Minister of State for Cultural Foreign Policy highlighted the essential contribution of artists and cultural creators in these difficult times: “What would become of us in a time like this, without books, films and music in which to find refuge and support? What would our societies be without those who created them? Without artists. We are therefore even more determined to protect our most precious asset: our faith in solidarity and the power of culture”.

This collective crisis proves again the fundamental role culture plays in building resilient, healthy and fair societies. The sustainability concept which is based on the three-pillar paradigm: economic, environmental and social lacks the vital fourth cultural pillar. Culture must be a pillar in its own right, in an equal relation with other three dimensions of sustainability for its contribution to the creation of collective narratives, its ability to heal and consolidate communities, and foster diversity. As stated in CAE’s report Implementing Culture within the Sustainable Development Goals: The role of culture in Agenda 2030, culture also offers exploratory, interrogative and critical approaches to the world and its systems, and nourishes the ability to identify and analyse current and complex challenges that need transversal and multidisciplinary responses to be understood and acted upon. But above all, culture is the common good, its gain is fundamentally social and collective, contributing to creation of equal, diverse and supportive societies.

While culture has an obvious potential to contribute to all the 17 goals of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda, we will only focus on two goals here: SDG 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” and SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. 

Numerous studies have established the link between cultural participation and well-being. A link between psychological wellbeing and participation and engagement in cultural activities has been proven to increase life satisfaction. The 2011 Eurobarometer on Well-being found that EU citizens ranked participation in cultural life and access to cultural heritage as a core component of well-being once basic needs were fulfilled. The corona crisis has made this correlation visible as never before.

The digital approach to culture has seen an astonishing increase in users and variety of contents in the COVID19 emergency. But the possible benefits of this phenomenon go way beyond and should not be limited to the crisis time-frame, as they prepare the ground to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The European Council acknowledges this opportunity, recognising the impact of digitalisation on the “new models of access to culture, personal reinterpretation and self-expression, arousing keen interest among young people and engaging them as active audiences”. This requires a more strategic approach related to young people’s participation in culture, fostering their creativity, skills, active citizenship and social inclusion. 

The impact of culture towards a more sustainable future and how it contributes to all 17 goals can be read in the CAE report Implementing Culture within the Sustainable Development Goals: The role of culture in Agenda 2030 that collects evidence on the transversal role of culture in achieving the SDGs. 

While trying to make the best of the current situation by extracting meaningful lessons that the COVID19 crisis can teach us, Culture Action Europe continues to advocate for the explicit recognition of culture in the achievement of the SDGs.

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